Lee stronger and wiser following season of challenges

Date published: 02 May 2014

ATHLETIC supporters turning the page on their official club calendars this week may have had a shock when confronted with May’s poster boy.

Cristian Montano, pictured in full flight at Rotherham where he scored an excellent solo goal, is no longer welcome at Boundary Park - to the extent that even his brilliant individual effort on the opening day of the season at Stevenage didn’t make it into the club’s shortlist for best strike.

That is understandable, given the circumstances of his sacking. Only print deadlines are the reason he appears in the calendar at all.

But with the final game, against Notts County, tomorrow, manager Lee Johnson has revealed just how badly the alleged spot-fixing saga affected him.

“I took it to heart more than I should have done. It knocked me for six for three or four weeks,” he admitted, recalling the hurdles he has faced in his eventful first full season as a manager.

At the start of the season Johnson had a very different side in mind to that which will line up tomorrow.

In front of loan goalkeeper Mark Oxley was supposed to be Notts Forest defender Jamaal Lascelles - whose loan fell apart at the last minute, leaving David Mellor as current Brentford star James Tarkowski’s centre-back partner.

On the opposite wing to Montano was to be Sidney Schmeltz — currently back in the Netherlands after flopping at Athletic - while up-front Aberdeen’s star striker Adam Rooney was primed to hit the goal trail.

It goes to show what a tumultuous season it turned out to be.

“The team we wanted we never got out,” Johnson added. “There was the rumour Lascelles was coming in and that would have been a big one for us. We sold Jose Baxter and then James Tarkowski. They meant building again.

“We want the new stand so much, but it takes finances we have to create. So we did well to get the cup matches we did. Some of the stuff that has gone on in the lads’ private lives as well, you can end up more a social worker than a coach and you are not really trained for that. And last year didn’t have any staff...”

Things have settled down though. Athletic are nine matches unbeaten, with seven of those games involving an unchanged starting line-up.

Johnson sees clear evidence of progress, which he hopes can pass into the 2014-15 season.

“Now, we can go from a position of strength,” he said. “There has been a lot of progress this year, even though it has only become fruitful in the last six or seven weeks.”