DJ aims to get back into scoring groove for PNE

Daniel Johnson has scored eight goals this term
Daniel Johnson has scored eight goals this term
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Daniel Johnson is looking to get back amongst the goals again to help Preston maintain their impressive form.

The midfielder is PNE’s leading scorer this season with eight goals, seven of which have come in the Championship.

He has gone more than a month without getting his name on the scoresheet though, Johnson last finding the net against Ipswich on January 16.

“My personal target was to score 10 goals this season, I’m on eight at the moment,” said the 23-year-old.

“It has been a little while since I have scored so it would be nice to get one and be back in the groove again.”

Johnson’s next chance of a goal will come in South Wales against Cardiff City on Saturday.

North End go into the clash with the Bluebirds in excellent form, having won their last four games and being unbeaten in five.

In fact, they have lost just four of their last 23 league games, statistics which go back to when the sides drew 0-0 at Deepdale in the reverse fixture.

Johnson says the upturn in form and results over the last few months has not come as too much of a surprise to him.

A difficult first couple of months to the season came as they struggled to adapt to the Championship after last May’s promotion.

Since then, the only way has been up for the Lilywhites, with the game against Cardiff an eighth-versus-ninth battle.

Said Johnson: “We all knew that we were capable of what we are producing at the moment.

“Maybe a lot of people are surprised by how well we have been doing but within the changing room, there was a lot of belief in our quality.

“We will work hard to try and keep this form going and see where it takes us.

“At the start of the season, we had a struggle with our results.

“We were playing quite well in games to be honest but came out of them without the points we probably deserved.

“Since then we have got to grips with it and are showing that we have improved.

“This division is very tricky – on their day, everyone can beat each other.

“Let’s see what the next few months bring. If we were to end up in the play-offs, that would be good but no one is looking that far ahead.”

North End’s push up the table is more the impressive when you consider the bulk of the squad is the one which played in League One last season.

The starting XI for the wins over Wolves, Sheffield Wednesday and Charlton, contained eight players who were at Deepdale last season.

Against Charlton on Tuesday night, the three substitutes who came on were also in the promotion-winning squad.

“The manager has stuck with us, he has brought in one or two, but the majority of the squad is the same,” said Johnson.

“if you look at the team which has been playing recently, it is the same one which played in League One last season.

“There have been a few additions but not that many.

“We have not changed too much, apart from being more solid at the back and we have started to put our chances away.

“Joe Garner has started to score again, which is a really positive thing for us.

“I always said that if you stuck with Joe, he would end up among the goals again.

“We all know what Joe is about and what he gives to the team, I’m really pleased for him.

“He is going to give opposition defenders a tough time and they are not going to like playing against him because of the kind of player he is.”

Johnson is now in his second year as a Preston player, having signed from Aston Villa in January last year.

The £50,000 which PNE paid Villa for him was an absolute steal, bearing in mind his regular status in the side and the goals he has scored.

Simon Grayson made his move for the player after he caught the eye playing for Villa’s Under-21s and during loan spells earlier last season at Chesterfield and Yeovil.

Johnson admits that the last 13 months could not have gone much better.

“I have really enjoyed it here, it has been fantastic,” he said.

“From day one, I settled in with the lads and the coaching staff.

“I have grown as a player and got a lot more confident about my football. We have done that as a team too.

“In this division, you are coming up against players who are stronger and quicker with their decision making.

“They are more intelligent with the ball and you have to be on top of your game to match that.”

The visit to Cardiff will be another big test for North End but one which they enter with plenty of confidence.

Just a point separates the two sides, the incentive for Grayson’s men being to go above the Welsh side into eighth place if they win.

“We are looking forward to it,,” said Johnson.

“When we played them here earlier in the season it was 0-0 and we have come a long way since then.

“If we were able to get a good result and bring something back, that would be great.

“It will be a tough game – Cardiff are up there for a reason and have done well.”