PNE boss wants to add grit to DJ’s game

North End midfielder Daniel Johnson
North End midfielder Daniel Johnson

Alex Neil says he is working on Preston midfielder Daniel Johnson’s physical approach to add to the ‘real quality’ he has going forward.

The 25-year-old has not nailed down a regular start lately due to injury and form.

But he came off the bench against Bristol City and set up the winner for fellow sub Sean Maguire on Tuesday night.

PNE boss Neil is of the view that DJ’s technique is as good as anyone’s at Deepdale and wants him to now add a bit more grit to his play.

Neil told the Post: “DJ did fine against Bristol City, his ball for the goal was excellent.

“That is what he brings, he has that great quality when it comes to his passing – he sees the forward pass very easily.

“At the start of the season DJ was sensational, he made that midfield spot his own.

“ The emergence of Alan Browne and the emergence of Paul Gallagher after injury and illness at the start of the season, had made it tough for DJ to get back in on a regular basis.

“No one rates DJ higher than I do, he has real quality but I’d like to see the other side of his game, a bit of dig and grit.

“In terms of quality and seeing a pass, it is great but that isn’t the sole ingredient to win you games.

“If you are going to be a No.8 or a No.10 then you still need to battle.

“You need to be on the front foot, be aggressive in your press, you need to win tackles and headers.

“That is a side of his game we are trying to work on with DJ at the moment.

“He has all the tools, his legs are incredible and he has as good technique as we have got here.”

Johnson has started 22 Championship games this season and come off the bench five times, netting three goals.

He missed the recent games against his former club Aston Villa and Ipswich after being hit on the temple by the ball in the 1-1 draw with Wolves.

The 25-year-old returned to the bench at Bolton where he was an unused sub, before making the positive impact in midweek when he replaced Paul Gallagher.

If Johnson is involved against Fulham today, he needs to keep his nose clean.

He has nine yellow cards to his name and another would trigger a two-match ban.

Paul Huntington is in the same boat, having been booked against Bristol City.

If both can avoid a caution this afternoon, the amnesty for 10 yellow cards kicks in.

The FA introduce it after 37 games in the Football League rather than a specific day, in case a team has played fewer matches by then.

Midfielder Ben Pearson is on 13 cautions and there is no amnesty – 15 yellows would mean a three-game ban.