Alex Neil keen to get Daniel Johnson back in the frame at Preston North End
Alex Neil thinks Daniel Johnson impressively adopted the ‘talisman’ role in the Preston North End side before his injury.
Johnson has missed nine games with a knee injury sustained in early December but returned to full training this week and could feature in the squad against Charlton at Deepdale today.
Despite having missed the best part of seven weeks, the midfielder remains North End’s leading scorer.
So his return to action – whether that comes today or at Barnsley on Tuesday night – will be a welcome one.
PNE boss Neil said: “When we lost Jordan Hugill, it was Callum Robinson who stepped-up for us and started to be our talisman for goals.
“Then when we lost Callum last summer, DJ stepped up for us. I moved him into that advanced role which really suited him.
“The problem we had playing DJ in that advanced role when Callum was here was that Callum used to come inside and operate in the same pocket of space.
“We had Alan Browne up there who would run and Callum would drop into the spaces he left.
“If we put DJ up there, him and Callum got in each other’s way a bit.
“Since Callum left, Sean Maguire has been on the left and he wants to run beyond more – that frees up more space for DJ.”
Johnson’s creativity has been missed. North End have won twice in his absence, drawn three times and lost four games.
Replacing him has not been straightforward, as Neil tried to explain.
“Like every other team, we have got a set style of play we like to use,” said Neil.
“When you take a key component of that style out of the equation, it is difficult.
“Although you are fitting good players in, they don’t play quite the same way the other player does.
“The rest of the team needs to get used to playing in a slightly different manner because the player coming in has different strengths.
“If you had a player who could do it all, he wouldn’t be playing for Preston – he would be in the Premier League.”
Having a fully fit Johnson on board – and a squad stocked nearly to the top – would be a big boost for the weeks ahead.
February is a particularly busy month, with seven games to play.
Said Neil: “We’d like to be full strength, we’ve got two more games in January and then seven in February.
“Once you are through February’s batch, there are only 10 games left.
“If you can do well that month, it can set you up nicely for the final run-in.”