The player focus in the Hull City match Blues News, was Roger Johnson. For those of you who didn’t go to the game – this is what it said.
By Peter Lewis
Roger Johnson has waited several years for the chance to ply his trade at the top level of English football so the defender has naturally been determined to relish every minute of it – and that’s exactly what he has done.
Blues’ £5 million summer signing from Cardiff City has started and finished every Barclays Premier League game this season, a feat that very few players achieve. And if the big centre-half had had his way then he wouldn’t have sat out the two Carling Cup ties either! Johnson thrives on the buzz of a matchday and he has revelled in the opportunity to pit his wits and brawn against some of the world’s very best players.
“I don’t like to miss any games. I haven’t missed many over the last few years and I wanted to keep that going here,” Johnson tells Blues News. “I am one of only three players in the Premier League that has played every minute of every game.”
The 26-year-old is quite rightly proud of that achievement but it’s not just been the quantity but the quality of Johnson’s performances that has been one of the outstanding features of Blues’ tremendous season. The former Wycombe Wanderers man has racked up almost a decade as a professional footballer but until this season all of his games have come in the second and third tiers. This is his first taste of the big time – not that you would ever know it.
Johnson’s commanding displays as a mainstay of the Blues backline has brought him plenty of plaudits and even press stories linking him with a possible England call-up. The defender is not getting carried away though as he knows that he hasn’t accomplished anything yet. “This season has been good for me. I’ve played every game and that’s what I wanted first and foremost,” he comments. “I feel as though I’ve done fairly well. Our league position is decent, we kept a lot of clean sheets and as a defender that’s what you want.
He adds: “I am fairly surprised about how easily I have adapted to the Premier League but I don’t want to do it for just one season. Next season is a big season again for me and I want to achieve more plaudits and help to keep the side in this division again.”
So what has been the personal highlight of Johnson’s first season in the Barclays Premier League? He says: “Going to Chelsea away was a big one for me. I’ve been a Chelsea fan all of my life and to finally play there was fantastic, apart from the result obviously. Turning out at all these big grounds is another feather in my cap. It has been a long road but now I’ve got there I’ve loved every minute of it.”
And, of course, the home match against Carlo Ancelotti’s table-toppers was another significant moment as Blues played out a goalless draw. In doing so Alex McLeish’s charges became the only team to stop Chelsea from scoring in a Barclays Premier League game during the last 12 months. The last two games at St. Andrew’s have witnessed two more of the top flight big guns, Arsenal and Liverpool, leave without the three points they would have been hoping for and probably expecting.
Blues could have claimed a notable victory against Liverpool with Lee Bowyer missing a golden chance with the contest locked at 1-1. “There have been a few games like that this season where we have done well enough to win, like the Arsenal match the week before when we could have pinched something,” recalls Johnson. “We’d had two disappointing results against Sunderland and Blackburn and everyone expected us to get pummelled by Arsenal and Liverpool, but we did really well in both games. I don’t think it’s a case of ‘oh, it’s a big side today so we’ll play better’. We don’t go into any game wanting to under-perform. Our home form has been decent, we’ve been resilient and I think that’s shown.”
And Johnson is quick to praise the part the supporters have played in the team’s success on home turf. Blues have been unbeaten at St. Andrew’s since September and the defender admits: “They have been turning up in their numbers recently and we’ve had some decent results – the fans have played a massive part in that. They have really got behind us at St. Andrew’s. I think they’ve had value for money because we’ve only lost two games at home all season. The fans have been superb and I hope they continue that support for the final two home games.”
Johnson is certainly one of the contenders for the player-of-the-season accolade that will be handed out at the club’s glitzy awards dinner next month. St. Andrew’s fans have always appreciated players that are willing to put their body on the line and the ex-Cardiff favourite has certainly done that a few times this season. Notably, back in November towards the end of the home game against Manchester City, one particular defensive block left him writhing in agony for several minutes, only for him to eventually jump to his feet and return to the fray. The centre-half, who turns 27 later this month, acknowledges: “The fans here have been great to me and I just want to reward them with a goal!”
The Ashford-born player has hit the net 36 times so far during his career, which by anyone’s standards is a healthy total for a centre-half. It has been bugging him though that he has yet to break his duck for Blues – he certainly won’t come much closer than his shot that rebounded off the inside of the post against Arsenal four weeks ago. But as the season draws to a close, Johnson is getting more philosophical about the subject. “It’s been one of those years. I’m just pleased that we’re safe and if I don’t score in the remaining matches then I’ll have another 38 games next season and I’m sure I’ll get one at some point,” he insists.
Maybe Johnson is saving up that first club goal for a special occasion? He couldn’t pick a more opportune moment than next weekend when Blues make the short distance across the city to Villa Park for the eagerly-awaited derby-day return. And he has scored against the Villa before – for Wycombe in a League Cup tie back in September 2005. His looping header put the Chairboys into a shock 2-1 lead and Johnson recalls: “I pulled away from Ridge (Liam Ridgewell) to score that goal – I reminded him about that when I came here!” Former Blues striker Tommy Mooney added a third to put the Buckinghamshire minnows into a commanding 3-1 interval lead – although perhaps we’ll leave it there and overlook the seven goals that our city neighbours scored in the second half at Adams Park. “Roy (Aitken) was at the Villa at that time so he reminded me about that too when I first arrived,” Johnson adds with a laugh.
Blues lost narrowly to Villa earlier in the season and McLeish’s side will be going all out to even up the balance in next Sunday’s noon showdown. Johnson understands how much the local derby means to the supporters. He says: “I know there’s not much love for each other and that was one of the games that we lost at home so it was a bad one for the fans. We’ll be looking to repay them at their place.”
But before then all focus will be on today’s game and the visit of a Hull City side desperately scrapping to avoid the drop back into the Championship. With Burnley coming at St. Andrew’s in the final home match of the season, Blues will have a big say in the relegation issue. And Johnson knows that neither team are going to roll over and give up the points easily.
He concludes: “Arsenal and Liverpool were still going for the Champions League spots so they were tough games but this will be a different type of match because Hull are fighting for their lives. They’ll be nervous coming to us with our record at home. We’re safe but we’re certainly not going to take our foot off the pedal. We’ve performed to a very high standard, we’ve got ourselves into the top ten and we’ll be looking to finish there. So it’s got the makings of a good game because they’ll be coming here playing to win. People will look at Hull and Burnley and think ‘oh, we’ll be fine’. But as I say, these could be really tough battles and we’ll expect a game from them.”