21st – Bradley Johnson
Behind window 21 we have another guest post. This one is courtesy of our friend Olly Wright from The Derby County Blog, so you know it’s going to be a belter.
Olly has chosen to write about DCFC record signing and midfield enforcer Bradley Johnson. Kick back and enjoy this superb piece of Rams writing!
“Usually when Derby conclude a transfer, we fans have had time to research the incoming player, if we’re so inclined – long enough to at least be properly briefed on his nationality. However, until 1 September, I thought Bradley Johnson was an Australian.
Yep, I was convinced that Johnson was a Socceroo and if pushed, would probably have confidently told you that he played for the Land Down Under at the last World Cup.
I don’t know why I thought that – but to be fair, the name couldn’t be any more Aussie, he has the sturdy physique of a Wallaby and his pugnacious, uncompromising on-field attitude is also reminiscent of our Antipodean cousins.
I first saw Johnson to Derby floated as a possibility on transfer deadline morning and dismissed it as rather odd speculation. Both eyebrows were raised when Johnson did sign and the relatively gargantuan fee, on top of the already sizeable Mel Morris investment, announced to the football world that as far as Derby were concerned, the Age of Austerity was frankly over. We were in unchartered waters now and no mistake.
Announcing the deal, Paul Clement said: “His experience will prove invaluable to us. He knows how to get out of this division, he has played a lot of Premier League football and is a leader.”
Here was a very different type of midfielder to the ones we had on the books – Johnson was signed to add real heft to what could be a somewhat wispy Rams XI. A great example came at Sheffield Wednesday, at a time in the game when a few tackles were flying in. One fair-but-ferocious Johnson aerial challenge, winning the ball before clearing out the opponent, demonstrated to the home side that here was a player who would not be bullied.
I asked the fans to sum Johnson up in a tweet for me – many of them used just one or two words…
At Norwich, Johnson gained a reputation as a goalscoring midfielder, but his brief from Clement seems to be to dominate the middle third, rather than foray forward too much. My pal Trev, who isn’t a Derby fan, watched the Huddersfield and Forest games with me and his impression of Johnson as a ‘halfway line midfielder’ would certainly surprise a Norwich supporter who’d watched him plunder 15 Championship goals during their promotion campaign.
Much has been made of Derby’s increased defensive solidity this season and rightly so. The flipside of that is that the Rams have been nothing like as buccaneering as they were under at their best under Steve McClaren. That’s in no way a complaint – it’s no fun watching your team collapse pathetically when their passing game is disrupted by opponents who are rude enough to not let them play.
Now, for a complaint – sloppiness.
More than any of the other players, Johnson sometimes simply wants a second too long to think about what to do with the ball. In almost every game, there’ll be at least one occasion when he attempts a casual flick and gives it away, or dawdles on it, thinking he can use his strength to buy more time, only to be robbed.
Of course, against Brighton, Johnson’s error in the centre circle led to the Seagulls’ second goal. It looked for all the world like the Rams were about to launch a counter attack, only for Johnson to embark on a crazy 360 degree ramble, which ended in disaster.
There have been ruminations among fans and journalists that something is not quite right with the balance of a Johnson – Thorne – Butterfield midfield three. Can that blend provide sufficient attacking devilment to score enough goals and win enough games for us to finish in the top two?
As shown by the selection against Bristol City, Clement doesn’t necessarily have to play all three. Especially at home, I’d like to see a bit more 4-2-3-1, with Thorne and Johnson holding and Ince playing the number ten role. There’s also the tantalising prospect of Will Hughes returning to the team and freed up to play further forward.
Johnson wasn’t signed because he’s the best footballer in the world. He was signed for his winning mentality and track record. Speaking to the BBC, Chris Sutton recently explained the difference between the title-winning Blackburn team he played in and the Norwich side which almost won the league in 1992, but faded in the final furlong:-
“With Blackburn, there was a completely different mentality around the club throughout the whole season. I arrived in the summer at a team that had just finished runners-up and finishing first was the target from day one – there was far more expectation and pressure. But there was also more experience of how to handle it…. We had some big characters in the dressing room, like Alan Shearer and Tim Flowers, and the kind of steely resolve you need.”
Johnson, along with Shackell and Carson, was bought with this in mind. His unrefined but imposing presence is helping to transform the Rams from stylish also-rans into real contenders in what is going to be another gruelling race for automatic promotion.”