Norwich City midfielder Bradley Johnson knows the pitfalls better than most
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
It takes more than a spell in the cold to test the resolve of Norwich City midfielder Bradley Johnson.
The 26-year-old's raw account of his teenage rejection at boyhood club Arsenal and his wilderness years in the ensuing aftermath where he fell out of love with the game before resurrecting his career in non-league circles sits at odds with his combative playing style.
Johnson has gone from virtual ever-present in Chris Hughton's Premier League midfield to a watching brief this season before injuries paved the way for a first-team return. But his bitter formative experiences have helped harden him to the realities of professional football, so Johnson will take little for granted ahead of this afternoon's next assignment at Sunderland.
'It is hard being out of the team because you don't know when you will be called upon again,' he said. 'That was the situation myself and lads like Wes (Hoolahan) found ourselves in and all you can do is to work hard on the training field. I got a call-up at Liverpool and scored a goal and felt I played well on a personal level and I have tried to carry it on from there. Last year for me to play as many games as I did was a great achievement. At the beginning of that season if you had asked me I'd have said I would get nowhere near that, but every player wants to play every game. I am in the side now and hopefully I can do my best but I know things will change and I have to accept there are times I won't play again. I have to be professional and when you put the shirt on you have to give the maximum effort.'
Johnson highlights the inevitable detrimental impact of attracting the likes of Leroy Fer and Nathan Redmond in the summer, allied to the blossoming of his ex-Leeds United team-mate Jonny Howson, as factors in why he has had to bide his time.
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'Personally I think it is the best I have seen Jonny play,' he said. 'I always knew he had that in him from our time together at Leeds. He has proved throughout the years that he is a good player and you only have to see the number of games he has played. This for me is the best he has been playing and the thing with Jonny is he doesn't get carried away but looks to keep performing. He has done great for us.
'This year we have signed a lot of good lads and we all know what it will take to stay in this Premier League again. To play a lot of games in this league is physically and mentally hard. We have had some injuries and that has given me a chance to get into the team, but I'm not setting targets how many I will play.'
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Johnson believes Norwich will need to replicate the type of battling display they served up on their last trip to Wearside to subdue a Sunderland team buoyed by midweek Capital One Cup success.
'If you look back at the performance last year we should have won the game. Even though we went down to 10 men we had chances to win,' he said. 'They have a new manager and a different style of play but it is about concentrating on ourselves. You can take the cup win both ways. They have played more minutes than us but we know if we go there and are not at it 100% they can beat us.
'They will be focused on the league so what happened against Chelsea doesn't come into it. Our main aim is to pick up points from rivals. Sunderland and Fulham fall into that category and we will go there confident after our last away performance at West Brom. They are not doing too well in the table but it will still take a huge effort.'
Gary Hooper is likely to have a pivotal role again at the Stadium of Light after his stunning strike salvaged a point against Swansea to bring his tally to four goals in 11 Premier League appearances.
'He is just a natural goalscorer. He does it every day in training and he just needs half a chance and it is in the back of the net,' said Johnson. 'We needed that in our team and he created that goal out of nothing really.'