Oli tipped to make it to the big time

PUBLISHED: 07:30 03 May 2010 | UPDATED: 17:17 10 September 2010

Chris Lakey

Paul Lambert is predicting big things from Oli Johnson after City's fringe players took centre stage on Saturday. Johnson, Matt Gill and Anthony McNamee were all handed rare starts - and all gratefully accepted the chance that came their way.

Paul Lambert is predicting big things from Oli Johnson after City's fringe players took centre stage on Saturday.

Johnson, Matt Gill and Anthony McNamee were all handed rare starts - and all gratefully accepted the chance that came their way.

McNamee was a box of tricks in the 'hole' behind the front two; Gill at the other end of the diamond made the game look easy; and Johnson continued to write his own scripts with a sublime finish with his first touch of the ball.

McNamee and Gill have experience tucked under their belts already, but for Johnson this is a new ball game - and Lambert senses something special.

The evidence came in time added on in the first half when Johnson, on for the injured Stephen Elliott, clipped the ball over keeper Mikkel Andersen with all the assuredness of a seasoned pro.

“I think he has got a real chance in the game,” said Lambert. “15 months being a professional is not long at all. He's a terrific lad, and his finishing was top drawer.

“That's not an easy finish that and to lift it over him was great. I'm delighted with Oli Johnson and what's he's done. If I was him at the minute, he can't do any wrong, I'd retire.”

Johnson was brought in from Stockport in January, the plan being to knock off the rough edges and produced a polished performer - an job that is on-going.

“He has millions to learn,” said Lambert. “He won't stop learning. He will keep going and hopefully he wants to better himself -- we have a player on our hands I think.”

Gill - a summer recruit from Exeter whose last start was at Stockport at the end of October - McNamee are further down the path, but Lambert suggested that neither was “on trial” in a game which had no real bearing on the affairs of League One.

“They didn't really need to prove anything,” he said. “I've seen them for the best part of 10 months.

“It's never easy sitting on that bench and Gilly's a great lad, a great pro, and that's one thing I've said to him.

“He's found it hard to get in due to Darel Russell's form and Korey's form and Simon Lappin's form, so it's been tough.

“I thought he did excellently. I know the pressure's off and that, but he's not played for a long time.”

McNamee has started only seven games since he joined City, initially on loan, in November, but relished the chance to show off his footwork in the role that Wes Hoolahan has made his own - although he will have to step aside next weekend for City's final game of the campaign when the Irishman, plus Russell, Smith and Adam Drury, all look set to return.

“He has played behind, where Wes plays, but Wes is a special player in that role and he'll be back next week as well,” said Lambert.

“Macca can play either side on the wings or he can play behind and I thought today was as good as what he has been for us.”

There was also an appearance from the bench for central defender Jens Berthel Askou - although Lambert admits the role is currently firmly in the hands of Michael Nelson, named Coca-Cola League One 'player of the month' on Saturday morning.

“It's well deserved,” said Lambert. “He's turned in terrific performances of late - a big goal at Charlton and a big goal last week again and he's been playing with a little bit of an injury at times.

“He (Askou) did okay, but to dislodge Michael Nelson the way he has been performing is a big ask.”

It was a romp for City, with the besuited Lambert refusing to contemplate any lowering of standards.

“I said to them the other day, 'don't come here and try and showboat because I think you could end up getting beaten quite heavily' and we have too many people coming to watch us, so they did it right and deserved it - and it could have been a bit more,” he said. “I thought we were excellent. We were here to win the game and I thought from start to finish we were excellent.

“You have got to enjoy it, but you have got to do it right.”

Almost 2,000 City fans were in Bristol, and Lambert is expecting a carnival atmosphere next weekend, when they see the League One trophy handed over to Grant Holt.

“I'm sure next week they will have the party of all parties, which they should really enjoy it and milk it because there are not many times you're going to get an occasion like this one,” he said.

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