Korey exit would leave huge void

Date published: 29 April 2014

CAPTAIN Korey Smith has been “brilliant” this season says Athletic manager Lee Johnson - so much so he is expecting transfer inquiries in the summer.

Having already turned down one large bid for Smith (23), Johnson admits the player’s sale would leave a large gap to be filled for next season. Smith has another year on his contract.

As Johnson and club chairman Simon Corney meet today to discuss next season’s playing budget, the potential sponsorship deal from Sports Direct and a possible sell-on windfall from a move from Manchester City of Micah Richards could swell the amount Johnson has to play with.

“I know there has been solid interest in Smith from a number of clubs,” Johnson said. “He has been excellent all year for me. It would be very, very difficult to replace him.”

Johnson says he will hear a worst-case budget today, though Corney could loosen the purse strings if Athletic appear capable of mounting a challenge for the top six places in the division.

Johnson doesn’t consider the possibility too outlandish, given the team’s performances against high-fliers this year.

“We have beaten Wolves and Peterborough and played well against top sides,” said Johnson. “A lot of it is about strength off the bench too. At Brentford we dominated the game, but they made three substitutions that changed the game.”

Tonight’s penultimate league clash marks the end of the road for unchanged starting line-ups.

Athletic won’t field the same starting side for an eighth game in a row against visitors Sheffield United.

“We have got a couple of niggles and there will be one or two forced changes,” said Johnson.

“But I will be trying to put as strong a side out as I can to win the game.”

James Dayton is pushing for a start after his winning goal at Carlisle, who will be relegated tonight if they lose at Crawley. On-loan Preston man Joel Byrom could also get a start for the second time in an Athletic career so far curtailed by injury.