by Nick Lough
IT’S taken a while, but Lenell John-Lewis, known throughout football as The Shop, is finally open for business as an out-and-out striker – and loving every minute of his Football League return.
Having been pushed out on the wing once too often while at Bury, the 26-year-old Londoner turned his back on the League three years ago to reignite his career as a goal-scoring centre-forward at Grimsby Town.
After racking up 16 league goals for the Mariners en route to last season’s Conference play-off final, his hopes were dashed after losing on penalties to Bristol Rovers at Wembley.
However, he was handed a golden opportunity two weeks later to return to the fourth tier with Newport County.
John-Lewis told The FLP: “I kind of knew, coming to the end of the season, that I probably wasn’t going to get offered a new contract at Grimsby.
“When we didn’t get promoted it was gutting, but to be given the chance to come back into the Football League was pleasing.
“I’d dropped down to get some more game time and to prove myself as a main striker, and eventually to get back into the League. It was a goal achieved.”
The Exiles struggled early on and found themselves at the foot of League Two.
“Playing under Terry Butcher was enjoyable for me,” he said. “He brought me into the club and outlined early doors that I would be the main starter up-front.
“It was disappointing how everything turned out and I can’t put my finger on why it didn’t go well. We went into every game with confidence and had good team spirit, considering where we were.”
With Butcher axed after less than six months at the helm, in came ex-Plymouth and Chesterfield manager John Sheridan, who has revived the team’s fortunes.
John-Lewis scored his maiden goal for the club in Sheridan’s first match in charge – a 1-1 draw against Exeter in early October.
“John has brought honesty to the club,” he said. “He’s not afraid to tell players exactly how it is and to actually get things like he wants them.
“Even when he does get it, he never stops, and I admire that in him. He always keeps us on our toes and always lets us know when we make a mistake in the nicest possible way.
“He keeps the game simple and asks us to do the basics right.”
The Shop is clearly enjoying working under the new boss.
“Since the new manager has come in, my role has changed a bit, but it’s clear what he wants me to do – he wants his strikers to be strikers, get up the pitch and into the box,” he said.
Before the weekend, John-Lewis had taken his tally to four goals after scoring in three of his last four matches.