Dave Seddon’s PNE press view: Preston midfielder Daniel Johnson has impressed in the No.10 role

Preston North End's Daniel Johnson eyes up the Sheffield Wednesday goal ahead of scoring his side's opening goal from the penalty spot
Preston North End's Daniel Johnson eyes up the Sheffield Wednesday goal ahead of scoring his side's opening goal from the penalty spot

This time five weeks ago the 2019/20 season was about to kick-off and supporters of teams in the EFL up and down the country were guessing how their team would line-up on the first afternoon.

Preston North End’s side at Millwall on curtain-up day was quite a straight forward one in terms of having a punt at, most of us getting nine or so of the XI correct.

The team that starts the season is rarely the one that finishes it and in PNE’s case it didn’t even make it as far as the second game.

Alex Neil changed it for the Wigan match a week later and has had to change things most games since due to injuries.

One change made on the second weekend has turned out to be significant, with that being the inclusion of Daniel Johnson.

Neil handed him the key to No.10 against Wigan and ‘50 Grand’ has made that advanced midfield role his own since.

Johnson ended August as North End’s leading scorer with four goals, in addition to that tally he has supplied three assists for team-mates.

Bar a big re-think by Neil or a mishap in training next week, we can assume DJ will face Brentford when action resumes next Saturday.

This last month or so has been quite a turn around for Johnson, a player who has in the past divided opinion of the Preston faithful.

Some have enjoyed what he has to offer from when he first joined North End in January 2015 right through to the present day.

Others have slipped off the pace in the last couple of years in terms of their liking for the man who has No.11 on his back.

What he has produced in the last few games has been met by a collective thumbs-up though, with him finding the net against Swansea, Stoke and twice in the win over Sheffield Wednesday.

He’d been excellent in the win over Wigan before that, the game where this flourish all began.

Nottingham Forest last week was maybe the quieter of his displays of late but there were still flashes of what he is about.

There is no doubt that the more attacking midfield job Neil has bestowed on him has benefited Johnson.

Was he quite as suited to play in a deeper two? Maybe not looking back.

Not that he was playing as sitting midfielder in that pair but he didn’t quite have the freedom which he’s enjoyed of late.

In terms of a bargain, DJ has been value for money at North End.

For £50,000 – a figure which the Preston faithful sing to honour him – PNE have got 190 appearances and 35 goals out of him.

Of those 190 games, 157 have been starts – Neil and Simon Grayson before him often having Johnson at the forefront of their thoughts.

He was key to Preston’s promotion push from League One, netting eight times in the second-half of the 2014/15 season after his arrival from Aston Villa.

In the first season up in the Championship, DJ was top scorer with nine goals.

He was not as prolific in the two seasons after, with him scoring four in the 2016/17 campaign and three in 2017/18.

Last season he found the back of the net seven times, a figure Johnson should push beyond this time.

Events close to the start of the season were such that we might not have been having this discussion about him at all.

There was talk of interest from Wigan, with Brentford’s name getting a mention too on a transfer gossip site.

Wigan certainly asked about a loan although at a time when they had already secured another midfield target.

It was an enquiry which was described to me at the time as a bit half-hearted, Neil later to describe it in a press conference as ‘silly’.

Loaning a player to a club in the same division, indeed one just down the road, was never on the cards.

But perhaps a decent cash offer might have met with a different response?

Neil at the time seemed reluctant to lose Johnson, describing him as a talented player, and will be glad of that stance as he reflects on these last few weeks.

On his day, DJ can pass the ball as well as anyone at the club, being left-footed also helping to bring some balance to the team.

When he’s not on his game, he can frustrate, but no more than anyone else.

Johnson has impressed of late to be picked ahead of Alan Browne, someone who for much of Neil’s reign has been the manager’s go-to N0.10.

Browne will push him to get his place back, once he isn’t needed to stand-in at right-back.

If that keeps DJ on his toes and inspires more displays like the ones of the last few weeks, that will highlight the value of strong competition for places.

One week and counting to the resumption of first-team action after the international break – there’s a fortnight off in October and November too.

In the last two or three seasons, North End haven’t been great in the first games back after the breaks.

Fingers crossed they can buck that trend this time as they look to build on the solid foundations laid down in August.