Johnson looks suited to new role
Reporter: Matthew Chambers
Date online: 20 March 2013
Athletic 3, Hartlepool 0
FOR a moment he has spent the last two decades waiting for, Lee Johnson cut a composed figure as the final whistle brought down the curtain on an excellent opening-night show.
There was no fist-pumping to the crowd, no sliding on his suit knees down the touchline, no running to celebrate in front of the Chaddy End.
He may be still be young at 31, but Lee Johnson’s maturity stood out with three huge points so stylishly gained. He already looks every inch a manager.
The appreciative home crowd was warmed by the way Johnson succeeded in a match of such vital importance.
Things went perfectly to plan here, with Hartlepool easily seen off and virtually condemned to relegation in the process.
There will be times when Jose Baxter doesn’t play like a dream, creating the opening two goals with scintillating touch-me, score-me crosses and smacking home a clinical third to end the job.
There will be the odd occasion when Jean-Yves Mvoto isn’t quite as magisterial as here defensively, and blips when new-boy Korey Smith, purring away like a high-class family saloon, breaks down while driving back and forth with regularity in built-up midfield areas.
That is the nature of football at this level. Players will make errors and Johnson’s job is as much about keeping his charges concentrating as anything else. For the first half, that is exactly what Athletic managed to do.
Setting up with Smith and captain James Wesolowski in front of the back four, Robbie Simpson was charged with providing a muscular threat on the left while Lee Croft burrowed up and down the right.
In between, Baxter was given license to roam and up front, Barnard is worth a heavy mention for his non-stop work-rate.
Both first-half goals were provided by Baxter. First he swung a undefendable left-footed cross which Simpson rose to power home six yards out. Then, after a poor corner was cleared back to him, the mercurial star landed an inch-perfect ball on to the head of the charging Mvoto.
In between, Croft was denied his first goal of the season by a good save as Athletic harried and forced mistakes out of their bewildered visitors.
The pace wasn’t kept up in a much closer second half. It didn’t really matter, thanks to Baxter’s terrific left-footed drive from the edge of the area which put paid to any lingering nerves with 20 minutes left.
There will be no party balloons and cake after a solitary win after four straight losses.
Shrewsbury are next, away. Athletic are already out of the bottom four and have games in hand.
Win on Saturday and the Shrews, another rival, will be dragged into the dogfight.
Johnson’s work has barely begun and this season is far from over. But signs of promise are impossible to ignore.
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