By Jamie Holt
LIAM Lawrence has vowed to steer Barnsley to Championship survival after the Tykes saved him from a Greek “nightmare”.
The 32-year-old swapped Portsmouth for PAOK in northern Greece in 2012 and took to life in the Mediterranean swimmingly.
A second-place finish in the Greek Super League and 27 appearances represented a successful first season for Lawrence – but things turned sour after a semi- final Cup defeat to Asteras Tripoli.
German boss Giorgos Donis, who favoured the former Stoke and Sunderland midfielder, was sacked in the aftermath of that loss and from then on Lawrence found himself largely on the bench or sat at home watching English football highlights.
That was until Barnsley, and old Mansfield team-mate Bobby Hassell came in for him last month –and Lawrence couldn’t be more relieved.
“I am really glad to be back. It’s time I came back really,” said Lawrence, who has signed until the end of the season.
“I wasn’t playing for six months. It’s frustrating and it was turning into a bit of a nightmare.
“The fans were really good, but the manager got sacked after we lost in the semi-final and ever since then it’s been tough.
“The new manager came in, the Dutch guy from Schalke, Huub Stevens, and things didn’t really progress for me – I was making calls to my agent telling him to get something sorted back in England as soon as possible.
“I spoke to Barnsley in the summer actually. Nothing came of it, but I know Bobby Hassell well and he told me it’s a good little club and they just need a couple of players like me to get out of trouble.
“He encouraged me to come initially in the summer and I told him when things were progressing.
“I just wanted to be back. I was watching everything, I’d get in and wait for the English football to come on. I was missing it.
“I used to watch the Football League Show every weekend and keep up to date with the football because I had Sky.
“Greece is certainly different, especially in terms of the weather, but the Greek winters get as cold as they do over here.
“It’s hard to adapt. Playing in 35 degree heat, even at night, is tough on the body.
“It’s not as modern as I’m used to over here. It was never for definite, I just tried to make it work as best I could but I’m buzzing to be back.”
The task at Oakwell is not going to be easy, though. Barnsley are embroiled in a full-on relegation scrap with new boss Danny Wilson only just restored to the job that he first held from 1994 to 1998.
Wilson led the Tykes to the Premier League for the 1997-98 season – their one and only campaign in the top flight – and Lawrence has been impressed by what he has seen.
But the Republic of Ireland international could have been playing there with Cardiff had things turned out differently before his move to Greece.
“I spoke to Malky Mackay that summer and the signs were promising,” said Lawrence, who spent the end of the 2011-12 season on loan to the Bluebirds.
“I always think about what might have been and whether I could be in the Premier League now, but things went the other way. It didn’t work out and there’s no point dwelling on the past.
“From what I have seen of the lads in training at Barnsley, I’m sure we’ll be fine. There are only a few points in it, the league is so tight, it’s mad. The boss is excellent, he’s really enthusiastic.
“If I stay fit and we stay up you never know, I may stay. But I’m just looking to get back up to speed first.”