PNE midfielder back on familiar turf

Daniel Johnson will face his former club Chesterfield for Preston
Daniel Johnson will face his former club Chesterfield for Preston
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THE boot will be firmly on the other foot as far as Daniel Johnson is concerned when Preston tackle Chesterfield on Tuesday evening.

He is set to pull on a PNE shirt for the third time since his January switch to Deepdale from Aston Villa.

Johnson will be on familiar turf at the Proact Stadium, having made 13 appearances on loan for the Spireites earlier in the season.

One of those games was the 3-3 Deepdale draw which the Lilywhites and Chesterfield fought out on September 16.

The hosts steamed into a 3-0 lead only to get pegged back by a tremendous onslaught from the visitors, which Johnson was at the heart of.

That is past history as far as the 22-year-old midfielder is concerned.

He has since had another loan spell with Oldham and then came to North End in a permanent deal last month as he sought regular football.

Johnson acknowledges that for half-an-hour, PNE blew the Spireites away that autumn evening – Alan Browne, Joe Garner and Josh Brownhill finding the net.

An Eoin Doyle goal as half-time approached looked to be nothing more than a consolation at the time.

But twice more in the closing few minutes of the contest Doyle struck to bring the visitors level.

Johnson said: “It was a fantastic night of football, ridiculous almost!

“Preston were superb in the first half and went 3-0 up.

“But Chesterfield came out for the second half at 3-1, really had nothing to lose and managed to get it back to 3-3.

“At half-time their gaffer just said go out and show some resilience, get the game back, go and fight.

“Preston were frighteningly good for that first half-hour or so – I had never been in a game like that before.

“The pace, tempo and physicality of their play was something else. You could see then that they would be up there challenging for promotion.

“When I signed here, I was told that the aim was to get into the top two and be promoted.”

By coincidence, Johnson’s big pal Callum Robinson made his Preston debut that night.

Robinson had completed a youth loan move from Villa just a couple of hours ahead of kick-off – not that anyone had told Johnson!

“I was surprised to see Cal when Chesterfield played here,” Johnson said.

“I hadn’t heard a thing about him signing for Preston and I think it had only got done late in the day.

“When I came out for the warm-up I was on the pitch and looked over at the Preston half where their players were.

“He was quite a distance away and I was thinking, ‘I’m sure that is Cal’.

“As I got closer I realised that it was him.

“We had a quick handshake and left it at that because we both wanted to concentrate on the game.

“Then we spoke a lot more after the game and had a bit of a catch-up.

“It was good to see Cal and it will be great to be playing in the same team as him here once he’s fit.

“Hopefully he will back with us in the next week or so.

“I have been playing football with Cal since I was about 15 – I’m now 22.

“We bounce off each other and know what one another’s attributes are.”

While Johnson had a loan spell with Yeovil three seasons ago, it was Chesterfield where he got his first decent run of first-team football.

For that he is grateful even though it will not show on Tuesday night as he strives to help Preston get three points.

Said Johnson: “The lads at Chesterfield are quality, a decent group, they all bounce off each other and work hard.

“There is trust between them, like there is here.

“Chesterfield gave me my first decent run of games at first-team level.

“At the start I didn’t really play but once I got into it, got going and got a run of games it worked out well. They will be very good tonight but I just hope we are on top of our game and can get three points.”

The fact that Johnson has been cup-tied for both the 
FA Cup and Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, means that his start to life at Deepdale has been a bit sporadic.

He had to sit out the first two games after putting pen to paper, before making a belated debut at Crawley.

Johnson had to give the Sheffield United replay a miss, then returned for Saturday’s 1-0 win over Coventry.

“We needed that win – it gave us that confidence boost going into the next few games,” said Johnson. “If selected, this will be the first Saturday-Tuesday games for me at Preston.

“Then I will get another week or so of training because I can’t play in the Manchester United game.

“My match fitness is getting there and will only improve the more I play and train. Since day one, the boys have made me feel really welcome here.

“In my two matches here, they’ve put a lot of trust in me and I’ve put a lot of trust in them.

“How you settle in at a new club is down to your character.

“The type of character I am, I can blend in with any group of lads.”