On 11th February Daniel Johnson was left out of the Preston North End squad, as they were overpowered by Burnley in a 3-0 defeat at Turf Moor.
You can count on one hand the amount of times that DJ had been left out of a matchday squad when fit since his arrival eight years ago. It hasn’t happened again since. The Jamaican has started the last nine games, of which North End have lost just one, won six and drawn the other two. Form which has seen them make a late call to gate crash the play-off party.
It was the 30-year-old and his ever reliable penalties that helped galvanise us back into some form. At 1-0 down at half-time to Wigan Athletic on the 25th February it looked as if Ryan Lowe’s time as manager was coming to an end. DJ scored a penalty in the second half before Tom Cannon kickstarted his Preston career shortly afterwards.
In the games that have followed both players have been hugely influential.
The centre of midfield is a very competitive area at the club. That was shown on Monday with Alan Browne and Ali McCann both out injured, we were still able to start with DJ, the ever reliable Ben Whiteman and the very impressive Josh Onomah. There was also Ryan Ledson and Ben Woodburn on the bench. Seven players capable of playing in that position.
DJ has only started just over half of the league games this season, and before the recent run of nine in a row, it was a very frustrating season for him. The midfielder signed by Simon Grayson in our League One promotion campaign in 2014/15 for just £50,000, is into the final few months of his current contract.
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He is one of our highest paid players reportedly, and you have to question whether there will be another contract on the table for him.
We do have other options on that position and Lowe may see it as an opportunity to redistribute the funds to a different area of the squad. It would be a huge shame to see Johnson depart the club. He played a massive part in getting us into this league and keeping us here, and has been a focal point under four different managers now.
I don’t doubt that he would have a plethora of offers from Championship clubs, and perhaps a rekindled interest from Rangers. Aged 30 now, his next contract may be his best yet, but probably not at Preston North End. If we do offer him another deal, I would expect it to be on lesser terms.
There’s no doubting his importance to this team though. He captained the team on Monday and led by example with his performance. He was constantly talking his teammates through the game, you could tell he was desperate to win, and he controlled so much of the play.
He was quick to spread play into space, and release the likes of Alvaro Fernandez. Onomah really complemented him as well and I’m excited to see that relationship build over the next five games potentially.
Johnson has been a great servant to this club, and we do play in a more attacking way and on the front foot when he is on form. He doesn’t always hit the heights he is capable of and that can be frustrating at times. But he does need the rest of the team to be on the same page as him as well. In this formation he needs the wing-backs to be pushing on, and giving him options on the counter.
Brad Potts and Fernandez have done that so very well in recent games, and that allows DJ to spread his wings. If we are to mount a late push for the top six, ’50 grand’ will be key to it. It may just be enough to convince the club to give him another contract. He’s loved by the fans, and Preston North End will mean a lot to a player who has worn that shirt 332 times, scoring 57 goals.
We saw him arrive as a fresh faced 22-year-old, and he has developed into an established 30-year-old player admired, and envied by other clubs. Let’s hope DJ’s story with Preston doesn’t end next month, or if it does then it’s with him lifting a trophy at Wembley.