Greek experiences have hardened Lawrence for Reds’ survival fight

Liam Lawrence in action for Portsmouth
Liam Lawrence in action for Portsmouth
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THE prospect of plunging himself into the thick of a relegation battle is something that does not faze Liam Lawrence in the slightest.

The midfielder’s Championship CV may boast two headline accomplishments, namely promotions with Sunderland (2004-05) and Stoke City (2007-08).

But Lawrence’s second-tier summary also contains a troubled section at Portsmouth, whom he famously left on loan in March 2012 to help free up funds for financially-crippled Pompey to see out the season and not go to the wall.

He then agreed a severance package five months later to enable administrators to facilitate a takeover to save them.

That would leave most players a touch battle-hardened, but it is his recent bitter-sweet experience with Greek club PAOK Salonika, which has toughened him up more than anything in England.

His 16 months in Greece’s second city proved challenging on and off the pitch, but it has afforded him valuable perspective for what lies ahead in his footballing career, starting with his next chapter at Barnsley.

The 32-year-old, who has signed a deal with the Reds until the end of the season, said: “I spoke to my agent before Christmas as I felt it was the right time to leave Greece. He spoke to Barnsley and they got their heads together, and here I am.

“For the first year in Greece it was fantastic and I played really well and played a lot of games. But then the manager got sacked and things change in football from one week to the next.

“I didn’t play so much and got an injury and that was it really.

“But I don’t regret it. It was a good experience for me and hopefully, now I am back, I’m a better player. It’s made me mentally tougher, that’s for sure.

“You have to be tough over there. I left my family behind and things like that. I’ve got two boys and leaving them behind, with them coming over at half-term and me going back during the international breaks, was the hardest thing for sure. While the fans over there are mad.”

The 32-year-old is hoping itis a case of third time lucky with the Reds after twice speaking to the club about moving to Oakwell, the second time as recently as last summer.

Around a decade ago, Lawrence also spoke to the club during his days as a goalscoring winger of some repute at Mansfield. But it was ultimately left to his then Stags team-mate Bobby Hassell to make the permanent move up the M1 and he is still there today.

As for avoiding the drop, Lawrence is confident he has seen enough already to suggest the Reds have enough of what it takes to ensure Championship football for a ninth successive campaign.

Despite not playing since the end of November, the Retford-born player is desperate to be involved against Blackpool in a massive game at Oakwell tomorrow, which could prove a defining one in the Reds’ quest against the drop.

He added: “I am itching to be involved, if we get the international clearance and the manager thinks it’s the right idea.

“It’s a challenge and I am looking forward to it. I don’t believe that (relegation) will happen. The lads are flying around in training and it’s a really good standard and if we can put that into a game now, there were be no problem at all.”

David Perkins and Jim McNulty are close to leaving the club.

Perkins, is rumoured to have attracted recent interest from Ipswich Town, and Blackpool are also known admirers.

Meanwhile, Reds boss Danny Wilson is running the rule over Lescinel Jean-Francois, with whom he worked at Sheffield United. The Frenchman is on a two-week trail.

Just as Lawrence is desperate to do his bit to help his new club stave off the drop, so Sheffield Wednesday’s new recruit, USA international defender Oguchi Onyewu is keen to take care of business, both team-wise and on a personal level.

Like Lawrence, the big centre-half, who has experience across Europe with the likes of AC Milan, Sporting Lisbon, Malaga, Sporting Lisbon and Newcastle. has joined until the end of the season following a difficult time of his own.

Onyewu linked up with QPR in October, but did not kick a competitive ball in anger.

It left him playing catch-up in his quest to pull on the USA national team jersey again by impressing coach Jurgen Klinsmann in World Cup year.

But Onyewu, 31, who started two games at the last World Cup, but who has not played for the national side since last summer, 
accepts his pressing engagement is securing an Owls first-team shirt after their recent upturn.

Onyewu, capped 68 times by the USA, said: “I am looking for an opportunity to play.

“Obviously, the form (Owls) had prior to December is a lot different to now and I am just hoping to contribute to the good run of games to get more victories and points to move up the league.

“As a player, it’s important to get the games in; with this year being a World Cup year, even more so for me.

“I am working my way back into the national team programme after some injuries some years ago.

“But right now I feel fit and great and there’s a good atmosphere and good coaching here and I am just looking forward to the future.”

The Owls have offered fresh terms to veteran schemer Stephen McPhail.