Everything Lee Johnson said on play-off heartbreak, the season gone and the summer ahead for Sunderland

Sunderland’s promotion hopes were dashed for a third season in a row despite a spirited first-half performance against Lincoln City on Saturday.

Sunday, 23rd May 2021, 5:00 am

Afterwards, Lee Johnson spoke about the game, the season and the summer rebuild ahead.

Here’s everything he said….

On the game...

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Sunderland boss Lee Johnson

"It's devastating.

"There's no other word for it. Everyone is devastated.

"You could see we put everything into it. I thought the fans were magnificent, it was my first taste of Sunderland support and it was absolutely top, top drawer.

"The positive is that that is the sign of things to come, and the tempo we can create for the 23 home games next season.

"I think we should have had a penalty when Ross Stewart was brought down, and I think at that point if we go 3-0 up, it gives us a chance to rest a bit in possession.

"When they had their spell in the second half, the effort we put in the first half told.

"We came good again when we made the subs, but we just couldn't find that elusive goal.

"The disappointing thing is that we've been done by a set play, that's the bit that massively bugs me.

"We do a lot of set play work and we'd had our warning sign when they hit the woodwork. We failed to do our job there.

"We had some great chances, and I know they had some as well.

"I think we put a lot of effort in, you could see that boys were hanging in towards the end.

"We had a lot of players out of position as well. We've probably had about 40 things happen to our defenders over the season, injuries, illnesses, and that takes its toll.

"We did OK at the back today but we've ended up with Max Power at right back and Lynden Gooch at left back."

On the damage being sone in the second half at Lincoln....

"That's the damage, and the referee not giving us a penalty.

"They have been absolutely horrendous this year and I can't wait to get hold of the referee's association in the summer, so I can present all the bad ones we've had.

"We've tried to stay quiet on it but when people's livelihoods are on the line, it's so frustrating.

"They should have VAR in the play-offs."

On what he has taken from the season....

“I feel like I wish I was here for the whole of the season because I think a pre-season is really important.

"There’s going to be a natural evolution of the squad now. Some players will have played their last game there today for various reasons.

"Some we may want to keep but can’t afford to, some we might not want and will want to move on, and others we might want to retain and will give them our best offer.

"It’s a sad day because you do build a rapport with these players, but the club has also showed today the potential power we’ve got – the pressing game we played in the first half, the attitude from the fans to get our pressing game going.

"That as 10,000, I can’t wait to see what it’s like when there’s 42,000 in there. I thought the boys gave everything, and that’s obviously a minimum standard, and we played well on the day too.

"You’ve got to give credit to Lincoln for a fantastic season – they’ve used the loan market very well. I think our recruitment becomes the difference, to be honest with you.

"That is the summer challenge – to make sure, potentially on a slightly reduced budget, that we actually recruit very well."

On plans in place for what comes next....

“I fully believe in the club, there’s no doubting that. I came into the club knowing how difficult it was going to be.

"We’ve had an unbelievable run of things that have gone on – some you know, and some you don’t know – and we’ve obviously continued to try to plough away.

"In the background, we’ve got a sporting director and owner working very hard, and a new head of recruitment and data, and that’s a process that’s ever-evolving, but that I don’t have to be involved in until now.

"We will set down and reflect on the season, and have some really honest conversations and be brutally honest about what went well and what didn’t go well. There’ll be changes.

"It’s inevitable there’ll be changes, and the test will be whether we can make those changes for the better. Football’s not in a great place, and that could work for us or it could work against us.

"Inevitably, we’ll be judged by the quality of our recruitment in the summer."

On the key factors in falling short this season...

“You reflect, don’t you. There’s obviously the cup as well because that was discussed. The club’s run out of steam for three or four years in a row after having good cup performances.

"I honestly don’t think it was that – for me, it was more the injuries to the back unit. If you go through everything, I can’t really believe it…

"Denver Hume, three hamstrings. Tom Flanagan broken foot, ripped calf, ripped hamstring.

"Big injuries to Arbenit Xhemajli, Jordan Willis.

"Bailey Wright three injuries in succession. Conor McLaughlin, hernia, hernia then stress fracture of the back.

"Dion Sanderson, fractured back.

"You couldn't make up what's happened to our backline.

"That's what has cost us, more than the cup run, just not having enough players at their peak in that position since Dion went down."

On Kyril Louis-Dreyfus and the new regime....

“You know the expectation here and in this division, it's to get promoted.

“At the same time, we've got to make decisions for the long term.

“If we make enough of the right decisions along the way, whether that's promoting the youth player at the right time, recruiting the star number nine, whatever, we make those right decisions and it will come to us.

“You have seen today, if we can harness the power of the fans, use that in our pressing system, we can create really good, high-tempo spectacles.

“Your home form can then be the difference over 23 games.”

On what's needed next...

“We definitely need players who can play at a high-intensity.

“Robust players who can play at that tempo and don't get injured, and the footballing ability as well.

“We've got a great academy and a chance to develop those players.

“We want more and more of them and we've got to supplement them with top players at this level. The size of the club gives us the chance to draw those players in and anyone watching today would see that this could be a really powerful beast.

“Straight away we've got to start.

“No time to rest, no time to feel sorry for ourselves. We've got sit down with the board, the Sporting Director, over the next four or five days and get this plan right to go and be successful.

“It's not the day to talk about recruitment but we've got a good team in place and we know, you saw Ross Stewart today, how well he played and the potential he's got, we know we can attract players over that quality.”

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