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New Sunderland head coach Lee Johnson makes dugout debut hours after arrival

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The former Bristol City boss was a surprise choice to replace Phil Parkinson - and was in the Sunderland dug out with four hours of being announced.

Sunderland v Wigan Athletic - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Getty Images

On Saturday lunchtime, Sunderland named former Bristol City boss Lee Johnson as the next man to take on the Stadium of Light hot seat – and the head coach will have learnt a lot from being in the dug out for yesterday’s defeat to Wigan.

Sunderland v Wigan Athletic - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Getty Images

Johnson, 39, left Bristol City at the end of last season after four years in charge, and had been heavily linked with the vacancy at Derby County.

As well as choosing to take his place in the dugout as opposed to the stand, Johnson made another big call - recalling Aiden McGeady to the line up after more than 12 months on that sidelines.

After the game, Johnson said:

I’m only about four hours into my reign, but I really wanted to take the game today and I’m pleased I did because it is a learning process.

I’m learning about the players, the staff, and the feel about the place.

It’s my job to promote this element of creativity and not see personalities suppressed.

This is a very big club and that comes with heavy scrutiny of everybody and I feel that I’m big enough and ugly enough to cope with that.


The lowdown on Johnson

Johnson was something of a surprise appointment. Earlier this week, we went in-depth on Johnson’s career as we assessed him as a potential managerial candidate – although we did rank him as an outsider for the role.

Briefly, however, Johnson began his managerial career at Oldham in 2003 aged just 31, dragging them safe of League One relegation and then establishing them in the top 10 the following season.

This attracted the attention of fellow League One team Barnsley – with Johnson moving to Oakwell despite the South Yorkshire team being below Oldham in the league. He stayed at Barnsley for less than a year – the club were 12th in the league when Bristol City – a club Johnson had played around 200 games for – came calling.

Bristol City v Fulham - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images

And it’s at Championship club Bristol City that Johnson has really made his name as a manager. He initially managed to save the club from relegation, however the following season the club only stayed up on the second off last day of the season – which led to calls for his dismissal.

He remained in charge, and improved the team ahead of the 2017-18 season, signing Senegalese striker Famara Diédhiou for a club record fee of £5.3m.

The club finished 11th in the Championship that season, and went three places higher the following term, finishing 8th, and enjoying a run to the League Cup semi finals, which included a 2-1 victory over Manchester United.

At the end of the 2019-20 season, Johnson was dismissed with the club finishing in 12th position.

Johnson has a reputation for playing attacking football and for giving young players an opportunity – and despite his young age has managed almost 400 games in the Championship and League One.

He also has a reputation for going on runs of wins – and runs of defeats – earning him the nickname ‘Streaky Johnson’. How much that is down to him, an how much is down to the team, remains to be seen.

Overall, his managerial record reads: P371 W140 D99 L132 Win ratio: 37.7%

Fulham v Bristol City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Alex Burstow/Getty Images

Looking to the future

While Johnson may not have been an immediately obvious appointment, sources close to the managerial search have told us this has been a data-driven recruitment process, with incoming sporting director Kristjaan Speakman playing a key role in the appointment.

Speakman said:

The role of our Head Coach is going to be critical in delivering the strategy we have collectively established. This aligned approach has enabled us to create a profile for the position and following a rigorous process, I felt Lee was the outstanding candidate. I believe he understands the complexities of the project and I’m looking forward to supporting him in his role to bring sustained success to the football club.

Ultimately, it’s a ‘wait and see’ appointment. It’s not one that immediately gets the pulse racing, and his lack of big club experience could be a concern.

However, given the fact he’s managed successfully in the Championship over the past four seasons, has a reputation for playing good football, being tactically progressive and giving youngsters a chance – and is evidently a manager on the upward curve – gives some room for cautious optimism; despite the reversal yesterday.

Welcome to Wearside, Lee – we hope you’re here for a long and successful time!