Daniel Johnson’s injury has robbed Preston North End of a ‘top quality’ player just at a time when he was beginning to hit form again, according to Alex Neil.
The midfielder is facing a spell on the sidelines after damaging a quad muscle in his thigh.
It is an injury of which the seriousness has only just come to light, Johnson having played with it since the start of October.
North End’s No.11 had started the last six matches, returning to the side on the back of a strong performance as a substitute in the 3-3 draw at Aston Villa.
In five of those Johnson played in a deeper midfield role before moving forward to operate behind the striker at Bristol City a fortnight ago.
It was following that game that the 26-year-old was sent for a scan on his injury and he saw a specialist yesterday for an assessment.
Deepdale manager Neil said: “DJ is someone I speak to a lot at length, he is a good lad and an intellectual lad.
“He didn’t play as much as he would have wanted last year but we got him to extend his contract and stay with us because I firmly believe he is a top quality player and can do a lot of good for us.
“I think he was showing signs of doing that in the last couple of months.
“That is the frustrating thing, him and Sean Maguire were hitting good form, things were clicking into place.”
Johnson’s injury came out of the blue, Neil revealing it had been treated as a deadleg.
It certainly didn’t seem to hinder him in the intervening period of games.
Neil said: “The initial injury apparently happened against Wigan so it’s surprising.
“It was quite a bit ago and we were treating it as a deadleg because of the symptoms it was presenting – but it seems it has got worse.
“Anyone who saw DJ play at Bristol City could see that he was moving freely.
“The amount of ground he covered in that game really was incredible.
“You can probably imagine our surprise, frustration and disappointment when news came back to us that it was more sinister.
“It doesn’t look like one he will be back from next week, we are going to be missing him for a little bit of time.”
Johnson’s absence adds to the list of casualties among North End’s creative players.
Five days before the start of the season, Billy Bodin tore his anterior cruciate ligament.
The same injury befell Josh Harrop in September.
Sean Maguire pulled his hamstring last week while on international duty.
Said Neil: “The injuries have come in the same area to creative players.
“It’s disappointing as we try to build some momentum.”