WHEN it comes to Barnsley’s New Year transfer business, it’s very much a case of once bitten, twice shy for Lee Johnson.
Youthful potential may have been the buzz phrase in much of his summer dealings, but the emphasis will be very much on hardened experience when the January window opens on Saturday for the Reds head coach.
Johnson’s close-season recruitment proved decidedly mixed with his quest to forge a promotion push around the flower of youth backfiring somewhat and descending into a relegation scrap instead.
Despite already using 29 players already this term, Johnson is expecting to be busy on the incoming front again at the start of 2016, with his squad lightened by the release of Simeon Jackson and the return of fellow strikers Michael Smith and Conor Wilkinson to their parent clubs.
Johnson is hoping to extend the deals of loanees Ben Pearson, Aidan White and Lloyd Isgrove, whose deals expire in early January and he met with Reece Wabara yesterday, with the defender’s short-term contract running out on January 9.
With regard to business elsewhere, Johnson has pledged that opting for seasoned professionals will be the order of the day.
And with the first leg of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy northern final taking place on Saturday, January 9, the Oakwell chief admits that time is of the essence as he strives to bring in players who are eligible for the competition.
He said: “We’ve seen the likes of Adam Hammill come in and he’s been brilliant and Conor Hourihane has upped his game as well.
“I think that truly good players make others good players and that’s the key. If we can get one or two more of them, we will be flying because that makes a big difference in this division.”
He added: “We are in the JPT area final which means any player coming in really needs to be eligible to play in that game as it is so important to us. We all want that Wembley date and that sort of narrows the market for us.
“But it is a hurdle we will try and get over.
Along with recruiting players, Johnson – who has not ruled out more loans despite having already signed 11 loanees at various stages of 2015-16 with mixed results – is also keeping his fingers crossed that the January window ends with Hourihane still a Reds player.
But he accepts that interest in the Irishman, in impressive form of late, could well transpire.
He added: “I would not be surprised, you know what football is like. A lot of it is statistics and Conor is better than anybody as a centre midfielder.
“He’s added another dimension to his game and his communication has improved 100 per cent and now he’s being a leader on the pitch.
“He is a clever lad and I think he can definitely play at a higher level, but hopefully with us.”
The trio of Jackson, Smith and Wilkinson all leave Oakwell having failed to make their mark for different reasons, according to Johnson.
In the case of Jackson, who signed a short-term deal in September, and Smith, who joined on loan with a view to a permanent move from Swindon, Johnson believes that they were victims of circumstance somewhat.
But he admits to feeling particularly dismayed that in his time at Oakwell, Wilkinson failed to show the immense potential that he believes the Republic of Ireland Under-21 striker possesses.
Wilkinson is now back at parent club Bolton Wanderers, with Johnson – who passed up an option to buy the 20-year-old at the end of his half-season loan – revealing that the players’ attitude left a lot to be desired.
On Wilkinson, who made just two league starts in 12 appearances for the Reds, with his only goal coming on the opening day of the season at Chesterfield, Johnson said: “I am disappointed, if I am honest as I think he has all the talent in the world.
“But his application needs to improve. He could be anything, but it is up to him.
“If he does improve his ways, the world is his oyster and he will have a very good career.
“But if he continues on the path he is on, then it will be very difficult for him to find a level that suits his talent.
“I want the kid to do well, as I have no malice against him.”
Meanwhile, Johnson has revealed that there is rival interest in Manchester United midfielder Pearson, whose deal expires at Oakwell at the start of the New Year.
Johnson, who remains hopeful that Sam Winnall will be fit for Saturday’s game with Millwall despite a slight shin problem, added: “I know there’s interest in Ben and we will have to see whether or not we are able to keep him.
“Ben has had a good season and he’s come on leaps and bounds and is maturing all the time. Ben at 24 is going to be a really top player.
“If he stays great, but if not, it’s been an honour and privilege to try and help him along the way.”