Wheel turns full circle for Latics
Reporter: Matthew Chambers
Date online: 21 March 2014
IT IS a little over a year since Lee Johnson’s reign as manager began with a Boundary Park thumping of Hartlepool.
Packed into the 12 months that precede tomorrow’s equally-important contest with Crawley have been a host of challenges — players sacked amid corruption allegations, star players sold to rivals — which lead the 32 year old to think he will never again experience anything as difficult in the game.
But for all that, Athletic and Johnson find themselves back almost where they started. After Pools were seen off 3-0 last March, Athletic sat on 39 points from 37 matches - exactly the same as the team has managed in 2013-14.
While below par by most estimations, Johnson says the challenges he has faced would have tested the managerial limits of even Chelsea’s Jose Mourinho.
“I don’t think I will have a tougher year in football, I really don’t,” Johnson said. “That isn’t just me. I think if you had Jose Mourinho come in to manage this club it would have been the same.
“Some of the sequences of events have been unbelievable, often not through anyone’s fault. And also some of the events in players’ private lives. It happens everywhere, but not normally to key players at key times.
“It makes you try to use it as a force, to say ‘let’s dig in and stay up’.”
The first of nine matches remaining isn’t going to be a cakewalk, Johnson warned.
Though some point to high-flyers Leyton and Brentford as being particularly tough, Johnson watched Crawley on Tuesday to get a better idea why John Gregory’s men have lost only one of their last 11 games.
“I watched them against Wolves and they were convincing winners,” Johnson said. “They have a small squad, have had few injuries and have players who know the division. We will have to be at our best. It is up to us to exploit their weaknesses.”
Athletic are favourites with the bookies to beat Crawley. The visitors might have been expected to be the more fancied of the teams following a midweek win over league leaders Wolves, but Latics are 13-10 favourites to win; Crawley 23-10, and the draw 12-5.
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