Lee Johnson has this message for Sunderland ahead of major test at Lincoln City

It was put to Lee Johnson in his pre-match press conference that this felt, in a way, like the real start of his Sunderland tenure.

Saturday, 12th December 2020, 6:00 am

He had made the bold decision to step straight into the dugout last Saturday but just hours after his appointment, the impact he could realistically make was limited.

Tuesday night was a valuable win and a step forward in the Papa John's Trophy, but the new head coach said before it would essentially be an extended training session and everyone knew what he meant.

This feels a little different.

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Lincoln City are second in the table and they are there on merit.

Michael Appleton is catching the eye with a side that was overhauled in the summer, taking on a more youthful look.

Already eight points clear of the Black Cats in the table, there is an obvious need to ensure that grows no bigger at Sincil Bank on Saturday afternoon.

Supporters, though, will also be looking with interest to see how Johnson approaches it.

There has been much talk of strategy, of being bold and attacking.

Here lies an early test of that intent.

Johnson is adamant that there will no be half measures and insists that he is not feeling the pressure to deliver a result.

It was easy to detect a genuine relish when he previewed a game that he expects to swing from end to end, with space for both teams to play.

"I don't feel it, I honestly don't," he said.

"I feel like we want to go and continue the progression of our performances, simple as that.

"We want to win and we're going with the intention of winning, but at the same time you can freeze a bit if you start looking at the end result rather than actually playing the game.

"These lads have got to make good decisions within the game and if they're thinking about the result at the end of it rather than the process and how we're actually going to win the game, then sometimes I think that can lead to a performance that can get caught in between, where you don't fully commit to what we're trying to do.

"I've asked the players to fully commit to what we're trying to do, and if we get caught out, it's better than getting caught out in half measures.

"There's no point me asking everyone at the club to be bold and then as the manager putting the reins on everybody, because we're playing second in the league.

"If we get it wrong, it's on me, but I guarantee you that in five, ten games we will go on a run and we will catch people.

"That's genuinely how I feel.

"I might be wrong and I'll be there to shoot down if so, but I can only tell you how I feel and that's it."

In a nutshell, Johnson's view is the best way to produce positive results is to focus on the process of getting there.

Tuesday night was a case in point, even if the stakes were significantly lower.

Johnson wanted the win but his pre-match messages were about urging his side to hit some key metrics in their play.

It was encouraging, then, to see his side stick to the plan even after they shipped a soft early goal.

"I said to the boys, you can have Christmas day off if you get 28 entries into the box and 14 across the first man," he explained.

"As it turned out, they got 27.

"Unlucky boys, see you Christmas morning!

"But that's about getting those goals early. As a manager you sometimes have to remove that pressure of the end result.

"We all know we've got to win.

"Let's be honest, we're Sunderland in League One and we've got to try and win every game. If we don't, we're often going to get pelters and that's par for the course.

"So it's my job to promote the creativity and the belief in what we're trying to do.

"That's what I've been most pleased with this week, that the lads have actually committed to it and tried their best in a short period of time to stick with what I'm trying to do," he added.

"At a big club like this, when you're at this level, people are frustrated. But we're here and you know what, we might as well enjoy it. We might as well enjoy the fact that we have got the potential to get wins.

"Let's try and commit to the future, enjoy the process."

There is nevertheless a balance.

Johnson is overseeing a significant transition and he is conscious that he does not want the players to be overloaded with information.

His goal is to 'drip feed' key principles over time.

"That is a delicate balance," he said.

"But I've just made a conscious decision to basically go for it, no half measures.

"You've got to get buy-in from the players, so if they're happy I'll know, and if they're not, I've given them the licence to tell me.

"Right now I'm firing terminology, tactical implementation at them until they're blue in the face.

"You don't want to bamboozle them, so I made sure today to say that they're going to have a three-week hit here where there is going to be a lot of tactical detail. Then I'll come off you for a week and we'll get back to football."

There is a long way to go this season, but a strong performance at Lincoln would be a fine place to start building some momentum.

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