Full of hope

Date published: 15 August 2014

ATHLETIC can set the tone for the entire campaign by picking up three points tomorrow.

Defeat Leyton Orient at Park and Lee Johnson’s men will be flying high in the upper reaches of the embryonic Sky Bet League One table — with another home game against Port Vale to come three days later.

Manager Johnson, whos ls that the chastening experience of the Middlesbrough loss on Tuesday night should be written off.

Instead, he wants his men to be positive as they hunt down a victory which would extend the unbeaten run to 12 league matches.

“It’s a great opportunity for us and at this stage of the season, every win feels like a cup-final victory,” said Johnson, who is hopeful of having Mike Jones back in contention after he missed out in midweek with a knee problem.

“Even now, you look at the table and if you win, you are right up there.

“It is an important time as well because the first 10 games can pretty much shape your whole season.

“So we are full of hope and endeavour and believe we can go and get three points.”

Athletic’s defence has so far proved to be more leaky than in the latter part of last term.

In the 10 games that ended the 2013-14 season, Paul Rachubka was beaten only six times, compared to five in just 180 minutes of football this time around.

Johnson admits that the common denominator of last season’s mean run, injured Adam Lockwood, is a big loss at present.

He argues that it is important that his fellow centre-backs step up to the plate.

“He (Lockwood) is a couple of weeks away from taking the protective boot off, then we will know more,” Johnson said of his club captain’s foot injury, sustained in pre-season action at Barrow.

“It will probably be around four weeks until we see him again.

“He was a loss at Colchester. We missed him for his organisation, not just under pressure but for balance when we are on attack.

“We can do all the tactical work we like, but when you effectively have a coach or manager on the pitch as well, it helps.

“He is a loss, but people like James Wilson — who I believe has a really bright future —have to come to the fore as a leader. He is 25 now, not a boy, and he needs to learn to be the ‘daddy’.”

Johnson expects forward Amari Morgan-Smith, the close-season signing from Kidderminster who has yet to feature because of injury, to be back in full training on Monday, with Rhys Turner following suit a week later.

When asked about the possibility of bringing in a new striker to fill the vacant number nine shirt, the manager stressed his hand won’t be forced in a panic measure.

“If we did sign a number nine, whether on loan or permanent, it would be an important one for us,” he added.

“So we would want to get that one right and in the meantime, give the other lads a chance to prove they can step up to be our main goal scorer.”

Midfield man David Noble has trained with Athletic on a trial basis over the past four days.

Johnson says that his former colleague at Bristol City is talented, but that there may be questions over his suitability due to fitness concerns.

“He (Noble) has a couple of offers,” Johnson added. “He is keen to stay but we have to assess whether we can get him fit and whether he is what is required.”

Athletic (probable, 4-1-4-1): Rachubka; B Wilson, J Wilson, Elokobi, Mills; Dieng; Winchester, Kelly (c), Jones, Forte; Clarke-Harris. Subs (from): Coleman, Brown, Kusunga, Dayton, Mellor, Philliskirk, Gros, Bove.