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?
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.