This is how Lee Johnson reflects on one year at Sunderland - the progress made and what still needs to happen

Oxford United’s trip to the Stadium of Light will mark a year since Lee Johnson took the helm on Wearside.

Saturday, 4th December 2021, 8:29 am

It was a tenure that began with what described as a ‘twenty-minute honeymoon’, a struggling Wigan Athletic side taking an early lead through Kyle Joseph and hanging on for a priceless win.

Having opted to head straight to the dugout, the ink barely dry on his contract, the new head coach saw first hand the job he had in rebuilding confidence and momentum.

On-pitch issues were only part of the challenge.

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Sunderland boss Lee Johnson celebrates a cup win at QPR earlier this season

His appointment came days after that of Sporting Director Kristjaan Speakman, with the club’s structure at boardroom level still uncertain as Kyril-Louis Dreyfus waited in the wings.

The scale of the rebuilding job in many areas of the club had become increasingly apparent in the preceding months, and would continue to be keenly debated in the weeks that followed.

Reflecting on the twelve months that have followed that Wigan Athletic defeat, Johnson said progress had been made but was clear that there will still much to do.

With ownership issues still at the forefront of the minds of many supporters, the head coach said this was a ‘three to five-year project’ still in the early stages.

“The standout for me when I reflect on the year is just how good the people at the club have been,” Johnson said.

“That’s something that I’ve really enjoyed.

“It was a big club in a mess - If I’m honest.

“This is a three to five-year project, I’m telling you, and there’s a lot to do. Take out promotion and relegation, I’m not talking about stuff like that, I’m talking about getting this big old ship running smoothly.

“There’s a lot of people working very hard but we’re going to need to continue to invest, as the ownership has done, in the right people and the right structures.

“I think the academy is a big job. We’ve got some really good people there, some really good coaches and some very talented young players, but we need to sharpen our performance culture over the next three to five years.

“And we’ve got to churn out top performances on a regular basis at first-team level.

“There’s a lot that goes into that, from recruitment, to bringing young players through, to senior players providing their worth and weight, but it is a fantastic club, it really is.

“It’s been an honour up to this point and I really do hope it continues for a long time.”

Asked whether he felt that project was on track twelve months in, the head coach said he felt it was.

“I think we’re getting the right people in the right places,” he said.

“We have lost people at times in terms of staff moving on, and that does happen at every club from time to time.

“In one sense that lends itself to opportunity, to bring someone in who can do the role very, very well.

“The team has a responsibility to give their all; I can feel how the area lifts after a win and sinks after a loss.

“They’re desperate to believe in us and trust us, where they haven’t been able to in the past.

“That’s the kind of respect we’re trying to earn day in, day out, and that comes from working hard.

“I try to come in and make sure everyone makes the club better than they found it at the start of the day.”

On the pitch, Johnson is hopeful that he has side have come through a ‘sticky’ path of form, though a long injury list continues to present challenges.

The head coach is well aware of the disappointment with some of the defeats earlier this season, and is equally aware of the pressure to secure promotion this season.

He believes that whoever achieves that return to the Championship will benefit from the work of the last year, and that the club can quickly accelerate from that point.

He remains adamant, as he did when he arrived, that he hopes his will be a long tenure on Wearside. And to that end, he urged his players to seize the chance to go joint top of the League One table on Saturday afternoon, to show another bumper crowd that they are firmly back on track.

“I’ve loved it,” Johnson reflected.

“The whole club, the magnitude and size of it, and everything that comes with that.

“Working with the staff, coaching players in a top-class facility.. all of that.

“I think the best part for me is knowing where we’re trying to go, and the journey that we’re on.

“I really believe that if we can move into the next division, and I would love it be with me, that we can kick on from the hard work that’s gone on behind the scenes.

“I’d love it to be me because I think that in the Championship, with the sort of wage bill to turnover [we’d have], I really believe there’s a lot of scope to go and really drive the club forward quickly.

“With the fanbase we’ve got and the income streams that would come with that, it’d just a great place to be.

“We’re not running it at that yet, but we’re trying to build up to what could drive us forward.

“That’s the bit where I still get up every day with a real enthusiasm, because I so believe in the potential of this place.”

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