Latics have to believe!
Date published: 14 March 2014
TOMORROW represents the final game of Lee Johnson’s first 12 months in charge — and Athletic’s manager is approaching it with the same enthusiasm he did his first fixture in the Boundary Park hot-seat.
Crewe is a crunch game but, Johnson stresses, whatever happens it won’t make-or-break a campaign in which he has learned plenty.
Johnson is set for a new signing and injury boost today, however. A new loan capture is on the brink of penning a deal – with a possible second to follow – while the return of Jonson Clarke-Harris and David Worrall will also beef up a squad which has been nursing bruises after rubbing up against high-fliers Preston and Rotherham in the last two games.
James Dayton is also in contention again, but John Paul Kissock’s groin strain means he has only a 50-50 shot of making it into the squad at Gresty Road this weekend.
“This is an important game, but it won’t decide anything,” Johnson, who is hoping to back up form on the road which has brought one defeat in the last four away-days, told the Chronicle.
“At this stage, for us, there are 30 points to play for.
“A draw would not be a disaster, as after it there are still nine games left.
“A lot of things come into deciding what sort of game it will be — nerves on the day, be it from the home side or the away side, the tempo of the match, pitch condition, atmosphere and when goals are scored.
“Refereeing decisions can change things and you are never sure what will happen.
“We have to go into it believing we can get a positive result — and I do believe that.
“We knew it was going to be difficult in our last two games, as I saw Preston and Rotherham’s strength at a time where we were at a weak point with injuries, little niggles and suspensions.”
Summing up his first year in management, which started with a 3-0 home win over Hartlepool last season, Johnson said that unlike life as a player every result carries with it a heavy weight.
“As a manager, the highs are way higher, but the lows are dark,” he added.
“You feel very lonely and isolated when you are at a low point and that is every manager.
“At the same time, we all know what we are letting ourselves in for. You are dealing with people’s livelihoods and passions and dreams.
“You have to enjoy that, approach it with enthusiasm and wear your heart on your sleeve.
“I am learning all the time. You talk about this year, and wow — what an unbelievable learning curve, not just as a manager but as a man.
“Your life is about experiences and I have this one. I am enjoying it though, of course, it is tough. But it was never going to be easy.”
The key tomorrow, Johnson argues, is going a goal in front. Athletic have scored first only 13 times in their 36 fixtures this term.
“It will be a tough game. I have seen Crewe a lot as I live nearby and they are decent, with players back fit now they were missing at the start of the year,” said the manager.
“We have to get one in first and that will give everyone the confidence in their games to go on.”
ATHLETIC’S home game against Sheffield United will now be played on Tuesday, April 29.
Athletic (probable, 4-4-2): Oxley; Wilson, Lockwood, Grounds, Mellor; Worrall, Wesolowski, Smith (c), Harkins; Clarke-Harris, MacDonald. Subs (from): Rachubka, Brown, Winchester, Dunfield, Kissock, Philliskirk, Dayton, Millar, Turner.
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