Barnsley: Lee Johnson excited by potential of George Smith

Barnsley academy graduate George Smith is all smiles at full time with Barnsley manager Lee Johnson,
Barnsley academy graduate George Smith is all smiles at full time with Barnsley manager Lee Johnson,
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George Smith could be one of Barnsley’s bright lights next season.

That’s the view of Reds’ boss Lee Johnson who has been impressed with Smith’s development since he arrived at the club.

And with a lot more hard work - and tinkering along the way – Johnson is optimistic Smith could be fighting for a regular starting role at left-back: “I’ve seen a massive improvement in George Smith since I’ve been at the club,” revealed Johnson, speaking to The Star.

“He has the right attitude to be become a very good player, but he also knows he’s got a lot of hard work ahead of him.

“But we’re here to help him with that and we’re hopeful he will improve.

“He’s one of those players that could go either way. He’s got talent, but he’s still got a lot to learn. But what I like about him is that he wants to learn, which is great for him, me and the club.”

Smith made his surprise debut for the Reds on Boxing Day – and ever since then the highly-rated teenager hasn’t looked back. The 18-year-old went on to play a further 18 times during the remainder of the Reds’ League One campaign.

And he capped a fine first team run by setting up one of the goals in the club’s 5-0 drubbing of Rochdale at Oakwell on the last day of the season. Click here for the latest sports news, reports and comment

Fellow youngsters Mason Holgate (22 apps) and James Bree (14 apps) have also been given the chance to develop under Johnson’s short reign thus far. And with the manager looking to go with a young squad next season, the future looks promising for some of the club’s Academy graduates.

“I’ve proven that I can develop younger players – and that’s the way I want to go next season,” admitted Johnson.

“The club have tried older players and that hasn’t worked, so it’s time for a new approach and that’s one of the reasons the club brought me in.

“It’s a case of getting the balance right of course. You can’t have a whole team of 18-year-olds, but you can definitely have a nice blend of youth and experience.”

Meanwhile, the Reds will play Conference North side Stalybridge Celtic in their opening pre-season friendly on Saturday 11 July, 3pm kick-off.

The club have also announced a home fixture with Huddersfield Town on Saturday 1 August - ‘Yorkshire Day’ - also 3pm start.