Preston North End boss Alex Neil's glad to have DJ back in the groove

Alex Neil thinks criticism of Daniel Johnson of late was harsh on the Preston North End midfielder.

Monday, 21st December 2020, 8:00 am

Johnson scored PNE’s winner from the penalty spot against Bristol City on Friday night at Deepdale.

North End manager Neil thinks a number of senior players, Johnson included, have struggled for consistency this season.

There have been spells on the sidelines for them, Johnson for example not featuring in a Championship game until mid-October due to a groin injury.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Daniel Johnson celebrates scoring from the penalty spot in PNE’s win against Bristol City at Deepdale

That came on top of a heap of speculation linking him with a move to summer move to Rangers.

Asked about Johnson’s form not having hit the heights of last season, Neil said: “I think it’s a bit harsh.

“For the majority of this season we’ve had people missing – we’ve been without full-backs, Ben Pearson has missed a lot of games, Paul Gallagher hasn’t played many matches, Ben Davies missed about a month.

“DJ himself missed the first few games, so it’s been a bit of a stop-start season for a lot of the squad.

“If you look at what DJ has churned out recently, at Bournemouth he was sensational and set up two goals for us.

“Then he got suspended for a game. At Barnsley he was in the team which got 1-0 up and then got done by a late goal.

“I don’t think he has been bad like people have made out.

“Against Bristol City I thought he showed a lot of quality.”

Johnson’s goal on Friday was his third in the last four meetings with the Robins.

He also found the net a fourth time against them in December 2016.

Johnson is one of the ‘big four’ players out of contract next June, Alan Browne, Ben Davies and Ben Pearson the others.

Browne and Davies both featured in Friday night’s game, with Pearson sidelined at the moment by an ankle ligament injury.

North End briefly rose to 13th place in the table after seeing off Bristol City, before going back down to 15th after the remainder of the division’s fixtures the following day.

They are seven points behind sixth spot and 10 ahead of third-bottom Derby – their Boxing Day opponents.

Neil is pleased to have the clear midweek in the build-up, the first one since action resumed after the international break.

“I’m going to rest for a little bit because my head is thumping,” said Neil.

“I don’t know how many matches I have watched over the last four weeks.

“The analysts need a rest too because they have worked so hard preparing us for the matches.”

Thanks for reading. If you value what we do and are able to support us, a digital subscription is just £1 per month for the first two months. Try us today by clicking here