BARNSLEY head coach Lee Johnson insists he will hold his head up high when he returns to Oldham today – but admits he is bracing himself for a hostile reception from home supporters.
Johnson takes his Reds side to Boundary Park just 17 days after leaving the Lancashire outfit, with many Latics fans still seething at his exit.
The 33-year-old is adamant he departed on good terms with the club’s owners and players and that he left Latics in better shape than when he joined.
That has not stopped many fans venting their fury at his departure on social media and Johnson says he will take any flak he receives on the chin today, not that he feels he warrants it.
On whether he expects to be a target for flak, Johnson said: “I am sure there will be some. I will be disappointed if there is as I gave everything for the club.
“I think certain things have been documented that have disappointed me, some true, some not true. But generally, the feeling between myself, the owners and players at Oldham is very good. We will remain friends forever.
“When you leave like that, on good terms and for a decent fee and also leaving them in a better place, you hope that people understand. But of course, this is football and you are there to be shot at.
“Hopefully, I will get a decent enough reception. But I don’t expect the red carpet treatment.
“It’s not nice, to be honest as I do like to be loved, that’s my personality. I do feel I gave everything I could to the club.”
Admitting the timing of his return is not ideal, he added: “I could have done without it, if I am honest.
“It’s still raw; some people won’t be bothered, some will think it was the right decision and some people will call me a ‘little whatever’.
“I am ok as I can look myself in the mirror as I was proud of what I did at Oldham and the squad and saleable commodities they have got and where they are in the league table.
“You don’t like (leaving a) bad taste in people’s mouths, that’s all. You expect it the way it happened, but there’s a lot you can’t say and maybe you have to wait for your book.
“At the moment, I’ve only got a pamphlet! But hopefully if I have longevity in the game, in 25 years I might have a book and people will understand different events.”
Just as at Oldham back in March 2013, Johnson’s current club were hovering above the relegation zone upon his arrival, but a remarkable five-match winning streak has transformed the rejuvenated Reds from relegation candidates to play-off candidates.
Barnsley, who could be roared on by up to 3,000 fans today, are just two points behind sixth-placed Doncaster Rovers and Johnson is urging is side not to let up in their play-off surge.
That said, he acknowledges today’s spicy Roses encounter is the toughest test yet of his Reds tenure with Oldham caretaker boss Dean Holden urging the Latics to go all out to get one over the former Latics boss.
Johnson added: “Initially, the aim was firstly to get away from the relegation zone and finish on a real positive if possible.
“And now a real positive is looking like it could be the play-offs.
“But in a game like this, it has got a loss written all over it if our mindset is wrong because of the opposition mindset and the crowd will be hostile to us and positive towards their players.”
It promises to be a battle royale between now and May for Yorkshire’s quartet of high-flying sides in their quest to make the League One end-of-season lottery, with Sheffield United and Doncaster occupying the final two play-off spots and Barnsley and Bradford City in seventh and ninth place.
Just four points separate City and the fifth-placed Blades, whose defeat last weekend to Fleetwood was described as a ‘massive result’ by Bradford manager Phil Parkinson.
The Blades have lost their last two matches and are seeking to avoid a third successive loss for the first time under Nigel Clough’s watch at Scunthorpe today, but Clough is not concerned with other’s opinions.
He said: “I am not quite sure how they (Bradford) view us, but we have just got to look in house and look after our own camp and what is going on.
“We certainly don’t like losing games, especially at home. The only way to put it right is to win the next game, but certainly not lose it.”
Bradford visit Notts County this afternoon, while Doncaster welcome another play-off candidate in Peterborough United.