Lee Johnson sends Sunderland a good luck message ahead of their play-off final clash with Wycombe
Lee Johnson has sent a good luck message to Sunderland ahead of next week's League One play-off final - and says he will be rooting for his former charges as they look to seal promotion the Championship. Johnson was sacked by the Black Cats in January despite the club sitting third in the table and just two points behind then-leaders Rotherham - albeit Sunderland had played more games than their rivals - with a 6-0 defeat at Bolton that left the Wearsiders with just one win in five games proving the final straw.
He was succeeded by Alex Neil who halted the slide and led the club to a fifth-placed finish, and now to a Wembley clash with Wycombe Wanderers a week on Saturday. Johnson was in charge last March as Sunderland ended their 48-year wait for a win at the national stadium, as they lifted the EFL Trophy.
And the 40-year-old insists he has no regrets following his spell at Sunderland and is full of praise for both the club and its fans, and he hopes Neil can be the man to get them out of the third tier - 12 months after his own bid to do that foundered with a play-off semi-final aggregate defeat against Lincoln City.
"I loved it," Johnson told Sky Sports of his time in charge. "I feel very privileged to have had the honour of coaching what I see as an iconic club in the country, an absolutely fantastic football club with great people, a fan base which is phenomenal.
"They are churning out 34,000 in League One on a regular basis. I think in general terms we did an excellent job, there were a lot of successes in that period and I wish them all the best and am rooting for them to get promotion this year."
Johnson took over at Sunderland in December 2020, with his arrival sanctioned by incoming chairman Kyril Louis-Dreyfus who was in the process of becoming the club's single biggest shareholder. Asked about his reaction to his sacking almost 15 months later, Johnson said: "I think they [emotions] are all in there, you know you’re human.
"You have to heal because effectively you have given everything if you like in that period of time. A football club and a manager's relationship is almost like a marriage and sometimes it breaks up.
"On this occasion genuinely I can look at myself in the mirror and say I have very few regrets in terms of where the club was and where the club is now. I think it's in a really good space, a really good place and I think primed for success."
Johnson has yet to go back into management after leaving the Stadium of Light, but in recent days he has been heavily linked with the vacancy at Scottish Premiership side Hibernian.
"I think the first thing is investing a little bit of emotional capital back into the family," said Johnson of his spell out of work. "It's so all consuming the manager's job.
"I've got a daughter who is approaching 14 years old and I've been away for effectively 15 months, 7am until 11pm pushing it hard. The first thing is getting that balance to make sure that the family have adequate time with you, but also when it's in you, you can't stop that thirst for knowledge. There will be areas of your performances that you want to maybe reflect on, review and focus in on."