Preston North End midfielder Daniel Johnson hopes finding the net can put him back on track after a 'difficult' spell
Daniel Johnson was back on the scoresheet to earn Preston North End a point against Bournemouth last week, a sign perhaps that the midfielder is settling down the pitch after his contract saga.
He netted the equaliser in the 1-1 draw at Deepdale, his first goal for more than two months.
Admittedly seven of his 12 appearances in that time had been from the bench, limiting Johnson’s time on the pitch and in front of goal.
The 28-year-old signed a new contract at the end of January, concluding a spell of uncertainty about his PNE future.
Such uncertainty had affected him on the pitch with him unable to find the type of form which won him last season’s player of the year award.
Johnson said: “It has been difficult to put outside stuff aside when you step on to the field.
“I wouldn’t say it had been strange, it has just been difficult for me personally to match the consistency level.
“It’s been a few things, I can’t really pinpoint one thing and say it was because of that. It is easy for people to say, ‘He’s not been at his best or he’s not been fully focused’.
“We are all human beings, all have feelings and emotions.”
Johnson’s season was unsettled from the start for all intents and purposes.
There was interest from Rangers just before the start of the campaign in September, North End rejecting a £1.5m offer for him from Ibrox.
He had a spell out with a groin injury, returning to action in October.
Johnson was a regular starter but things changed in January as PNE went into the transfer market to beef-up the midfield to cover the prospect of losing key players.
As it was, Johnson followed Alan Browne in signing a new deal but Ben Pearson was lost to Bournemouth.
So competition for the midfield places has been quite intense and Johnson has not been an automatic choice of Alex Neil’s.
Restored to the side for Bournemouth’s visit – and an on-pitch reunion with Pearson – Johnson’s eyes lit up when a 71st-minute chance came his way.
Intercepting Steve Cook’s attempted clearance, DJ set off towards the box and finished with a low shot into the far corner.
Johnson said: “You know what, my first thought when I got the ball was to try and slip Ched Evans through.
“I see my job first and foremost to create goals for others and that is what I look to do.
“When the space opened up for me to drive into, though, it was all about keeping a calm head and finding the corner of the net.”
That was Johnson’s 48th goal in a Preston shirt in what was his 249th game for the club – the trip to Wycombe Wanderers on Saturday should bring up No.250.
Fourteen points shy of the play-offs and 12 clear of the bottom three, PNE are marooned in mid-table.
Johnson is not thinking of league positions at this stage, more a need for consistency from Preston.
“Our focus is on trying to improve as a team,” said the man who cost a bargain £50,000 from Aston Villa six years ago.
“We all know that a lot of new faces have come in, some have come into the team and done well.
“As a team, we are still trying to work out our strengths and weaknesses.
“That is our focus, it is a game-by-game thing at the moment rather than looking at the table.
“The new players who have come in are a good set of lads and have settled well.
“What this club has always been able to do is bring in a mixture of experience and younger players.
“Then you have got the players in between, I suppose I fit into that age category.
“I’m one of the more experienced players in the dressing room with being here a long time.
“It’s always good to see young lads come in early in their careers knowing they have something to prove."
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