Daniel Johnson is happy to play whatever role Preston North End need him to
Daniel Johnson is just happy to wear a Preston North End shirt – no matter what guise it is in.
Whether it is as a deep-lying midfielder, wide in a diamond formation or playing an advanced role, the 26-year-old is content to do a job for the team.
But the former Aston Villa man concedes the role he played on Wednesday night in the 3-1 victory over Stoke City at Deepdale suits him to a tee.
Johnson played just behind lone front man Tom Barkhuizen and produced a man-of-the-match performance.
He set the home side on their way to what turned out to be a comfortable victory when he latched on to a loose ball on the edge of the area after Barkhuizen’s centre had only been half-cleared.
Winning the race to the ball, Johnson flicked it expertly in front of himself before firing the ball past England goalkeeper Jack Butland, who could only glove the ball into the bottom corner.
Johnson continued to have a major influence as he linked the play between Barkhuizen and his fellow midfielders Ben Pearson and Paul Gallagher, who were lying deeper.
In the second half, Johnson – who converted a penalty on Saturday in the 3-2 defeat at Swansea City– almost grabbed his second of the match in the 69th minute when he sidestepped his man in the box and fired a shot at goal.
Butland this time kept the ball out but the ball ran loose to Josh Harrop, who made no mistake from 15 yards as he fired low into the corner.
Johnson’s overall performance certainly impressed his manager Alex Neil, who said: “He’s got real quality has DJ.
“He’s probably been involved in four goals in the last four games or something like that. I knew we needed to address our home form which has not been good enough – that has not been good enough, certainly last season.
“I have tried to get the full-backs to be more aggressive, get further up the pitch and DJ’s more a technical player who can drift from side to side of the pitch and link the game.
“Thankfully so far, it’s worked.”
Johnson was modest about his own performances but is pleased with the way he has started the campaign and appears to be revelling in a more advance position.
“That’s what I’m in the team for to create chances and obviously get my goals as well,” he said.
“Playing further up the pitch, that is the role that you have to play.
“To be honest, I am not really bothered about where I play on the pitch as long as I can be out there, help the boys and contribute towards us winning games.
“That’s what I am here to do. On a personal level, I am really happy with the way things have gone and I’m happy with the way I have started.
“I have set myself a few personal targets for myself – and I will keep them very close to myself.
“Ultimately, it’s the team at the end of the day and we work as a team which we showed on Wednesday night.”
“Our quality is always going to come out and we will win games.”
Johnson admitted he did not quite get hold of his shot which led to the first goal. But his connection was good enough to find the back of the net, the bounce of the ball appearing to deceive Butland.
“I didn’t catch it that cleanly,” he said.
“I was just happy to see it go in and get us the early goal, which obviously got us on the front foot.
“We then got the second goal which allowed us to go in at half-time 2-0 up and that was very important. I think more importantly, we came out second half making sure we did not concede early and we managed to do that and then get the third goal.
“Obviously, it was disappointing not to keep a clean sheet but that happens when you’re getting tired towards the end of the game.”
Johnson was particularly thrilled to see Billy Bodin and Harrop join him on the scoresheet, especially as they both suffered major injuries last season.
“I am very happy for Josh and Billy – they have obviously been out for the whole of last season with knee injuries.
“They obviously contributed on Wednesday night and I am really happy for them. They have come back, worked hard to get back in the team and so I am very happy for those two boys. I think that is now the key to our squad at the moment.
“There is a lot of competition for places and as everyone knows we are a really tight group, but everybody wants a shirt on Tuesday or Wednesday night or on a Saturday afternoon.”
Johnson is hoping his men can continue their home form and make it three wins on the spin at Deepdale when Sheffield Wednesday arrive in town.
“The win over Stoke sets us up really nicely for the weekend. We are going to go into that game full of confidence.”