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Archived News from June 2005

25th June 2005 23:24

Transcribed from Football Post by carole

Silver boots and jingle – jangle

But Liam Lawrence lets his skill do the talking:

Liam Lawrence will line up against the likes of Frank Lampard and Wayne Rooney when the new Premiership season gets underway. The Retford – born player has come a long way in a very short time, as he tells Ian Wilkerson:

LIAM Lawrence has always been a bit flash.

A week after scoring his first goal for Mansfield, he got a flea in his ear from then manager Billy Dearden when he turned up with silver boots.

A talented player with skills by the bagful, you always got the impression he might just get on in life. A loveable rogue. The joker and loudest voice in the dressing room. A nice lad and great company off the pitch.

With him being a Manchester United nut, the first impression anyone who has watched him play would have was the David Beckham mannerisms.

And now, having helped Sunderland secure promotion into the Premiership, he has the opportunity to make his mark at the top of the English game.

It's been quite a rise and, having known him since he was a whipper-snapper in the Stags reserve team, it's interesting to hear him talk about how much work he has to do, now he will be plying his trade against the players that, not so long ago, he idolised.

Nearly two months after the Black Cats took the Coca Cola Championship title, can he comprehend where he will be playing in a few weeks?

“It's not sunk in yet and I don't think it will until I get battered by Frank Lampard,” he said.

“I'll have to cope with big games, there will be nowhere to hide. Playing against Man United would just be dream come true. I'll hopefully be playing in some massive games.”

Lawrence's last game for Stags was probably the most memorable for all the wrong reasons.

Even when he was a guest on the Soccer AM sofa, the bit of footage discussed wasn't his goal against Burnley the previous evening. All the talk was of the penalty in the shoot-out – the one that clipped the top of the bar and bounced over.

“All people wanted to talk to me about on holiday was that stupid penalty.”

But, by then, he had decided his future was away from Field Mill.

In the fortunate position to have played 150 games before his 23rd birthday, there were plenty of takers for a player who scored 22 goals from right midfield.

“It got to the stage when it was really the right time to move on,” he said. “If we had gone up then, who knows, but I was always going to leave after that play-off game. There was quite a bit of interest and Rotherham, Cardiff and Leeds were all interested, as well as Sunderland, obviously. I spoke to Paul Hart at Barnsley and was really impressed with what he had to say. The fact Bobby Hassle was going there might have made it easier but I am ambitious and they weren't playing in the division I wanted to be in.”

The opportunity to play at the Stadium of Light was too good to turn down, though.

“Sunderland were just fantastic. The facilities for training were unbelievable,” he said. “There was no dodging the broken glass like we used to at Berry Hill. It was a choice between Sunderland and Leeds and I would be lying if I said the problems at Elland Road weren't a factor but there were so many positives about Sunderland, it was the club to go to.”

After signing for the Black Cats, who had endured their own penalty misery in the play-offs, Lawrence was one of a new generation. Rather than big names, Mick McCarthy looked at the lower divisions for bargains and came up trumps. Others were Dean Whitehead from Oxford and Stephen Elliott from Manchester City reserves. Spurred on by the noisy atmosphere, they were soon at home and pushing at the top of the table. And it is interesting to note that, like Forest, they went to America for their pre-season tour.

“The manager didn't really bring in any big hitters and there were people like Stephen Elliott and Dean Whitehead who were in the same boat as me,” he said. “It's an amazing ground as well. I have been to Old Trafford and I think our place is better. When we played the last couple of games and Leeds, when it was full, it was just deafening. You couldn't hear each other on the pitch and it will be like that every week next season. We started a bit shakily but we just got stronger and stronger. It was a big achievement to go up as champions with so many players who had previously been playing in the lower leagues. People like Jason McAteer and Phil Babb were replaced so there was quite a lot of pressure on us. The fans were all saying that we had to do it last season, particularly after losing in the manner they did against Palace in the play-offs.”

Victory over fellow-promoted club Wigan in April was the time when it really started to hit home.

“We played Wigan towards the end and it really was a crunch game,” he said. “Looking back, whoever was going to win that game was going to go up. A 1-0 win meant we knew we were all going up then.”

And, having scored seven goals in the campaign, Lawrence believes he is still improving and has learned a great deal under McCarthy.

“We have worked together on a lot of things and I think that has made me a better player,” he said. “Things when I am on the ball and getting me to think more strategically have been the priority. You cannot help but learn off someone who has managed at international level. There are always good players waiting in the wings but thankfully I got in and did alright.”

And he is confident Sunderland can follow in West Brom's footsteps and secure their future in the top flight next season.

“I think we will do alright,” he said. “We played Crystal Palace in the cup when we had a few injuries and we could have won by more. The manager has brought in a good striker in Jon Stead and a top goalkeeper so hopefully, if I work hard, I will be able to play plenty of games.”

And they will probably all have silver boots on.


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