Daniel Johnson admits finding out he was the senior member of the Preston North End team came as something of a shock to him.
When the midfielder took to the field for the Lilywhites’ recent Championship clash against Leeds United, he was the oldest outfield player in the PNE line-up – at the grand old age of 26!
Only 28-year-old goalkeeper Declan Rudd could trump Johnson in the seniority stakes.
Having just turned 20 at the back end of last year, striker Lukas Nmecha was the youngest member of the team – two months younger than left-back Josh Earl.
Indeed, the average age of the team for the visit of Leeds was just 23.6 – that figure rising slightly in the games since following the return of 34-year-old veteran midfielder Paul Gallagher.
Having arrived at the club in 2015 – during the January transfer window – as a fresh faced 22-year-old from Chesterfield, Johnson agrees he has noticed a change in himself with regards to his own maturity as a player.
“I think the main thing for me personally is my maturity and leadership skills on the pitch,” said Johnson, who looks set to start for tomorrow’s visit of Sheffield Wednesday to Deepdale.
“The other night against Leeds, Ben Pearson said to me I was the oldest player on the pitch.
“I actually could not believe it – I’m only 26!
“Most importantly for me, it’s how much I have matured.
“W are a young team, especially in midfield.
“There’s me, Ben , Alan Browne, Ryan Ledson and then there’s Paul Gallagher who is the most experienced one out of all of us.
“We are all still learning, even Gally, but for us younger boys we’re all still learning.”
Despite his obvious seniority within a young squad, the former Aston Villa man – who is approaching 200 appearances for North End in all competitions – still finds it difficult to contemplate that he is somebody that others may look up to.
When asked if he feels like a senior man, Johnson said: “That’s a funny question – I don’t want to say yes because I am basically telling myself that I feel old when really I’m not.
“I just try to play my part really and give my information to the other boys – whether they are younger than me or older than me, it does not really matter.
“I might see something that the younger boys don’t see and pass that information on.
“But it can be vice versa – they will pass information on to me.
“I think we are all learning together and gelling together.
“We are a good group and nobody takes criticism that badly. We take it on the chin and just move on.”
Having helped the team reach the cusp of the play-off positions in March, a poor run of five defeats in six has ended any Premier League promotion dream.
Johnson agrees that this season can be looked back upon with regret but also pride considering the poor start which saw PNE languish at the bottom of the table in early October.
“We can’t really look back on what happened in the first half of the season because it is what it is and these things happen,” said Johnson.
“But I think if anybody would have said that we would go into the March international break that we would be sitting where we were – a few points off the play-offs – yes we would have took it 100%.
“We went on an amazing run after Christmas.
“With the run that we were having, everybody was buzzing looking at the table thinking we can definitely do it but unfortunately for us that wasn’t the case.
“We had a lot of injuries but that’s not an excuse, it’s just the reality of it.
“We have got to look at that and hopefully we can put things right for the start of next season.
“The most important thing for us now is to finish the season well with two wins.”
Having found himself out of the starting XI at times this season, Johnson has enjoyed a good run in the team in recent months. He has made 36 appearances over the campaign, scoring seven goals.
“I have been happy with my contribution this season and hopefully next year I can do a bit more,” he said.
“I would have liked to have played more. I would have liked to have played every game but that’s never always going to be the case.”
The Owls have had a similar sort of season to North End in that they started off poorly, but a surge has seen them rise up the Championship table.
With two games of the season to go, they still have an outside chance of finishing in the play-offs, four points off sixth.
Johnson said: “I think there are a few teams in this league who have that little run this season, but ultimately we have to focus on ourselves.”