Football League chairmen throughout the country would do well to take note of Lee Johnson’s Championship ‘Manager of the Month’ award for September.
Fully deserved by Bristol City’s head coach, it is also positive proof that owner Steve Lansdown was right in his courageous decision to stand by Johnson during the dark days of last winter when social media was bombarded by calls for him to be sacked.
If the award sends out a message to other clubs that changing managers should be a last resort, rather than a rapid knee-jerk reaction to often uninformed criticism, football will be the better for it.
If there is an element of ‘I told you so’ about this column, I make no apologies because I am heartily sick of the so-called fans, using pen names, who hurl vitriol at managers and chairmen from the safety of behind computer screens.
It is that blight on the game, which puts pressure on clubs to make the sort of changes we are now seeing all too often.
Managers come and go, often with huge pay-offs, long before they have had time to make an impression.
There is always room for opposing opinions in football, as in life.
But when those seeking to influence a club descend to the sort of abuse that was directed at Johnson during City’s eight-match losing streak last winter it brings the game into disrepute.
Right man for the club
On numerous occasions in the Sunday Independent, I urged City to stick with a head coach, whom I knew from our many discussions, had the intelligence, coaching ability and foresight to be taking the club in the right direction.
I was also aware from nearly 40 years of covering the club as a reporter that managerial changes, especially over a short period, more often than not set things back.
Stability is not a word that can be applied often to City. But history shows that when Robins managers have been given time, as was the case with Alan Dicks, Terry Cooper and Gary Johnson – success is more likely to be achieved.
Of course, it depends on the wisdom of the appointment in the first place, Many felt Lee Johnson was too young and inexperienced for the City job when he took it in February 2016 and that was certainly a valid concern.
What soon became apparent was that Lee has a maturity beyond his years, is an innovative and modern coach and has a passion for the club many of his predecessors have lacked.
It made no sense to dismiss him at an age where he was still learning the job, a mistake City made with Derek McInnes too soon after he arrived at Ashton Gate being touted as the best managerial talent to come out of Scotland since Sir Alex Ferguson.
Had the Robins been relegated at the end of last season, it might well have cost Johnson his job and there would have been more abuse directed at Lansdown for failing to act earlier.
Instead, the form City showed in beating the drop made a mockery of suggestions that the head coach had lost the dressing room.
Even now, I can hear the fans who were against Johnson saying that one swallow, or in this case one successful month, does not a summer make.
There will be those still hoping he fails, so they are proved right.
I can only disappoint them by stating that City are stronger as a club, have a vastly improved first team squad, an Academy set-up which is actually producing Championship-quality players, and are playing even more attractive football than when Lee took charge.
I put my name to those views, just as I was prepared to do last season when urging Lansdown to stand by his man and not cave in to pressure. Sometimes it is necessary to look beyond the last results and see the bigger picture.
It also gave me pleasure to see Aden Flint, a player for whom I have great admiration, named as Championship ‘Player of the Month’ for September.
The big centre-back probably came closer to leaving Ashton Gate in the last transfer window than Johnson ever did. At one time it seemed as though he had dropped to fourth or even fifth in the pecking order for his position.
To me, it made no more sense to sell Flint than sack Johnson. He remains a valuable source of goals and the dominant aerial presence in what currently looks a strong and tight defence.
Aden’s latest award will alert other clubs and it would surprise me if he is not a transfer target again in January. For the moment, he is an integral figure in hopes of reaching the Premier League.
During September he contributed to four wins and two draws, scoring three times and helping to keep three clean sheets.
I rest my case…