Adam Johnson’s post-Man City blues. Now the turn of the defence

Gareth in a dugout somewhere
Gareth in a dugout somewhere

When Adam Johnson finally beat the first defender with a corner at Loftus Road, but only by lofting the ball behind the goal, it was a piece of comic cuts football that seemed to encapsulate his season. The expensive move, the high wages and the perception of underachievement have weighed heavily in worrying times for Sunderland. But prompted by a tweet from @GhostofRoker – “For all the stick Johnson is getting, he has got goals and assists to his name, something which we’ve not had from a winger for yonks” – we wondered whether anyone might be willing to take an objective, even complimentary look at the player. Gareth Barker obliged …

When Sunderland splashed out
£10m on Adam Johnson in the summer, I couldn’t remember excitement like it over a signing since we acquired some bloke from Spurs who scored an “amount” of goals in red and white. We all thought we were on the way to a really decent season with players like Johnson adding the quality to the squad that we so desperately needed and desired.

A fully fledged England international. A Premier League winner. A local lad. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, when it comes to AJ there seems to be two schools of thought. Some believe he’s flattered to deceive, looks a shadow of the player we expected and he has even had the old “doesn’t look like he’s bothered” accusation levelled at him.

Others feel he has contributed well in a struggling side and while maybe not hitting his top form, is suffering from a lack of confidence to fulfill his true ability. It has also been suggested that he hasn’t slotted into the side well tactically and could be helped out a little more by the players around him in order to get the best out of him.

From my perspective, I’ve been relatively happy with his contribution, “relatively” being the operative word. We all know this season turned into a right off come the end of January, and suddenly we’ve found ourselves in a relegation battle. This is something that’s been simmering since pre-season and has flatly rumbled on until we’re fighting for survival again with eight games to go.

I believe that opinions on Johnson have been tainted by the sheer dourness of this campaign. We’ve been so poor generally, that players like Johnson have stuck out like a sore thumb.

I don’t want to get bogged down too much in statistics. We could all grab a stat from somewhere that would prove X goalkeeper has contributed more passes to assist an assister in the league this year.

But the fact is that AJ has more goals from open play than anybody else in the squad barring Fletcher.

He’s also played his part in a fair share of goals this year. With these hauls in a more successful side, he would have looked a far more potent contributor. Being one of the sole contributors singles him out as one who isn’t doing enough, rather than one who’s actually doing something.

He’s struggled to get past his last man and get a cross in on many occasions this season. Unfortunately for him, he’s often up against two or three opposition defenders and even the best players in the world will struggle to cause problems regularly when marked like this. It could be argued that if he had a full back going outside of him to create room to work in, then he could have the opportunity to force defenders to commit themselves and as a result become far more dangerous.

We all know how weak we are in the middle of the park. Our transition is so slow at times that it often results in players like Johnson picking the ball up in their own half. It’s difficult to do damage as a winger when you are 70 yards from the opposition danger area.

This is something Johnson has alluded to in recent newspaper articles himself. It’s also interesting that when we hear from Johnson in the press, it’s not the usual rallying call you’ll hear week in, week out. It was refreshing to hear him come out and talk about deficiencies rather than empty, token gesture remarks that get so many fans’ backs up during a particularly (and yet another) bad run.

What is the solution? How can we best utilise Johnson for the rest of the season and make him a focal point for our survival?

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I’m sure we all have
our own ideas, but I’d like to see him brought into the middle and played in the role that has often fallen to Sessegnon in his time at the club. I believe he has the desire to get close enough to be forward to offer support and a goal threat as well as being a creative option from deeper midfield areas. I’d love to see Johnson attacking space in the middle of the pitch, rather than ploughing away on his lonesome against two defenders.

Johnson is a very good finisher. His previous record at club level and for England would testify to this. I’d like to see him in the box in more central areas and I’m sure he’d be far more clinical than the often profligate Sessegnon.

Many have claimed they wouldn’t have bothered bringing him to the club now, given how he has performed. Are they seriously saying they wouldn’t have bought a champion and fully-fledged international footballer to the club, the one they were so excited about when we got him in the summer ahead of Spurs and Newcastle?

Hindsight really is a wonderful thing.

Am I making excuses for him? I don’t think I am, I just believe in the current side he just hasn’t been utilised well enough. Adam Johnson can play a key role in our survival. I just hope he’s given the opportunity to do so.

10 thoughts on “Adam Johnson’s post-Man City blues. Now the turn of the defence”

  1. CSB-Using your criteria for dropping AJ most of our squad would be benched and no-one would make the starting eleven. If AJ has disappointed you to the extent of binning him, some other players must incur your wrath even more!

    • Tom, We do not have too many others that came at his price. I do not see the point in deluding ourselves regarding his current form or displays this season.

      Notwithstanding his lack of work ethic, and bugger it’s not in his game, his crossing has been nothing short of a disgrace all season. He is what is commonly referred to as a ‘luxury’ item and this is not what we currently need.

      If he does not, won’t or can’t track back then in our current predicament he is of no use. Going forward he has been less than impressive, therefore overall contribution to the team negligible. Sess does not track back either and two in the same side is not good, one has to go. Johnston is my choice as Sess you feel can always turn a game, AJ on current form you feel can’t.

      By leaving AJ in situ we end up with the same team = same bloody dire results, something has to change. Being dropped to the bench, bit different to being binned, may just give him a wake up call but I doubt it.

      For the record I was not over the moon when we signed, even at City his form was erratic, but they had quality all over the pitch and could compensate for him we don’t and can’t.

      On his day he is great, unfortunately his day seems to be less than one in ten. Not good enough by any ones standard. Do you think we are doing him any favours by continuing to play him when, for whatever reason, he is so under par? Such ability, so little evident application.

  2. People should get off AJ’s case and encourage him. He is another victim of the ridiculously negative tactics of a manager who has bored us to death this season and whose results have not justified his tactical outlook.

    Johnson, as he said himself in the full interview, would be afr more effective receiving the ball much higher up the pitch.

    People should realise that Roy of the Rovers was a mythical player and the reality is that AJ receiving the ball on, or just beyond thehalf way line, will rarely result in him beating seven players before placing the ball in the top corner past a despairing goalkeeper. Fans need to look at the wider picture such as him playing out wide from what is often the weakest, most pedantically slow [in speed and thought] central midfield in the Premiership

    With regard to his crossing often failing to beat the first man, this suggests that there is something inherently wrong at SAFC just now, as Seb Larsson is also guilty of this sin and he was described by Arsene Wenger, no less, as the best dead ball specialist in the Premiership the season before last after his free-kick at the Emirates in a 1-2 loss. All season we have had decent players not performing consistently. Why? We are not world beaters but we should not be going through the present nightmare of being potential relegation candidates-we should be comfortably top ten and have had a Cup run.
    [Bradford City, Millwall, wigan anyone?].

    People moan about AJ’s lack of pace. He’s never been outrageously fast-he has that languid Waddle-esque gait. He was scouted as a £10m player and that was not an issue. He has a fanatstic skill level and people can be as critical as they want but his stats are decent for someone’s who has had to play in a negatively set-up, struggling side.

    Everyone, to a man, was over the proverbial when we signed him. Love him and hep him flourish. If better players arrive, only then will we see him at his best.

    • Whilst I am largely in agreement with your comments, the statement

      “With regard to his crossing often failing to beat the first man, this suggests that there is something inherently wrong at SAFC just now, as Seb Larsson is also guilty”

      smacks of desperation. Yes there are things quite clearly going astray behind the scenes, god alone knows whta they practice in training, but crossing a ball belongs to the basic skill set required for a footballer, no amount of excuses can justify the shockingly poor service that the forwards have to work off.

      I suggested dropping AJ to the bench and replacing him with a work horse, then use him as an impact sub. his body language on the pitch and percieved lack of effort is not endearing him to the faithful. In a better team giving him just the kind of service he needs he is of course effective, but we don’t have that. We need players on the pitch who can dig deep (Gardner style) to pull us out of this malaise.

      We all know what he is capable of, but currently he only merits a place on the bench and if he was to be totally honest with himself he would realise that he really needs to up his game, crossing and all.

  3. This player was constantly told to cut out the partying and work harder on the pitch by Mancini this he didn’t do. His potential has now materialized him into a ok prem player and at the age of almost 26 their isn’t too much room for improvement.

    In moving from City he gave up his chances for England as managers only pick players like him, carrick, Milner etc because of who they play for i mean look at Wes brown! He played for city 48 times in his first season 38 in his second probably similar to what he will at Sunderland was never and never will go a head of the players in front of him at city they are far to good and if they don’t have the skill they have the work rate like Milner.

    At £12m I don’t think he was a good signing at all, and the move from City has only made people be able to see that the emperor new clothes didn’t actually exist.

  4. Wingers can only produce if they’re high enough up the field when receiving the ball – Garth Bale and his freakish lungs the exception.

    This requires two central midfielders who can dominate a game, have a natural drive etc.

    If you don’t have midfielders capable of this then they need to be employed in a three.

    AJ not receiving the ball, exposure at playing 442, midfield being sliced open. They all boil down the the same thing – the lack of that (those) central midfielders.

    O’Neill needs to play three of them. Like a season long broken record.

    • Exactly.Central midfield is the key to having ago of team.This is where the game is controlled from and most goals should be scored from. Our best chance this season is to revert back to 451, put Gardner into midfield and hope he and Sess have their shooting boots on.

      • I agree.

        My team:

        Mignolet; Bardsley O’Shea Cuellar Rose; N’Diaye Colback (or Larsson) Gardner; Johnson Sessegnon; Graham.

        And that depresses the life out of me!!!

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