PNE midfield ace DJ prepares to face old club

Daniel Johnson will next week celebrate his second anniversary as a Preston North End player.

Thursday, 19th January 2017, 3:32 pm
Updated Friday, 20th January 2017, 8:02 am
Johnson after scoring from the penalty spot against Blackburn last month

Rather appropriately, the Lilywhites’ clash with Aston Villa is the game which falls closest to that anniversary.

It was Villa who sold DJ for £50,000, a fee which has made it into song with the North End faithful.

To get such a talent for a ridiculously low price was fine business on PNE’s part but questionable from a Villa view point.

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Johnson has flourished at Deepdale, and is 
just five games away from a century of appearances.

He has netted 21 goals in that time, a goal-to-game ratio which is 
impressive to say the least.

On Saturday DJ goes back to face his former employers and is looking forward to the occasion.

The midfielder spent five years on Villa’s books, having loan spells with Yeovil, Chesterfield and Oldham in that time, then coming to Deepdale on a permanent basis.

“When the fixtures came out, the first one I looked for was when we were playing Villa away,” said Johnson.

“I’m looking forward to going back to my old club, seeing some of the people I know but ultimately we want to go down there and get a win.

“It is only two years since I left so in terms of players, there are still quite a lot of the senior boys there.

“I played a lot of games coming through with Jack Grealish, who is in their first-team squad, he’s a good kid.

“I’m not too sure if Jack will be playing against us – if he is, I will look forward to seeing him.

“Villa are a brilliant club and I’m glad I had the chance to play there.”

Johnson cut his teeth in football with Crystal Palace, having spent most of his childhood in 
London after being born in Jamaica.

It was as a teenager that he took the decision to move to Villa’s academy.

Said Johnson: “I played against Villa when I was with Crystal Palace.

“I was 16, hadn’t signed a contract for Palace and an offer was on the table from Villa – one I decided to take up.

“It was a brilliant few years there, I enjoyed working with the staff and players. They were good with me.

“Villa had quite a few different managers when I was there – Martin O’Neill,Gerard Houllier, Alex McLeish and also Kevin MacDonald for a few games.

“The difference here is that there has been the consistency of working with one manager.

“It has been really good working with the gaffer for the two years I have been here at Preston.

“He has taught me a lot of things which I didn’t know about the game.

“It is good to have the same manager consistently rather than be changing every year or so.”

Johnson feels he has developed greatly since coming to Preston, helped by the guidance here.

Playing regularly has been a big thing, with DJ having started the majority of the games he has been available for.

“ I have developed a lot in the last two years, as a young professional you grow and develop,” said the 24-year-old.

“The manager and staff here have helped me do that, it has been a good two years and hopefully I can continue progressing.

“It has gone quickly for me here – it has been like a blink of the eye.

“I’ve really enjoyed it and just look to continue doing that.”

Johnson missed PNE’s win over Brighton last week because of illness.

He managed to make the game as a spectator and was impressed with what his team-mates did without him. With Ben Pearson also out because of suspension, Paul 
Gallagher and Alan Browne linked up to good effect in midfield.

Said Johnson:“I’m not feeling too bad now, I’ve been back in training since Monday.

“Last week, the lads put in a brilliant performance against Brighton.

“I came to the game and they did really well to stop a top team playing.

“On the other side of things, we punished them with two goals.”

It will not just be DJ who faces his former club this weekend.

PNE striker Callum Robinson was on Villa’s books from the age of nine, finally cutting those ties in the summer to move to Deepdale after three loan spells.

Their manager Simon Grayson also wore Villa colours for two seasons in his playing days, joining from Leicester in 1997 and leaving for Blackburn in 1999.

In the Villa goalkeeper’s jersey against North End will be Sam 
Johnstone. He came on loan to Deepdale from Manchester United the week before Johnson put pen to paper.

They were team-mates for the remainder of the promotion season, with them briefly reunited a year ago when Johnstone had a second loan stint.

“Sam is a top keeper, he was brilliant for us in the season we went up and when he came back to us for a bit last year,” said Johnson.

“We know what Sam is all about, that he will be hard to beat. Hopefully we will get the job done.”

While Johnson played at Villa Park in the youth team and reserves, he has yet to grace its turf at first-team level.

So while the ground is a familiar one, it will be a much different experience when North End make the trip.

He said: “I played at 
Villa Park a few times for the reserves and was on the bench in the first-team but did not get on to the pitch.

“Villa is a massive club and over the years they have achieved a lot. They have brought through some really good players.

“No doubt they will bounce back and find themselves back in the Premier League in the next year or so, maybe a couple of years

“We are doing well at the moment and so are going into the game with plenty of confidence.

“The aim is to keep that going and see where it takes us.

“That is the attitude we have always had – take it one game at a time and try to keep moving up.

“We are on a good run and have been picking up points consistently.

“Our spirit is good, we work hard for each other and want to do well.”