Sunderland winger hopes cup run catches Hodgson's eye

First published in Sport The Northern Echo: Photograph of the Author by , Chief Football/Golf Writer

ENGLAND’S forgotten man Adam Johnson fears his World Cup dreams are over but hopes to remind Roy Hodgson of his ability by powering Sunderland to Wembley this season.

Johnson’s introduction from the bench on Tuesday night proved a masterstroke against Manchester United when his mazy run earned a second half penalty which Fabio Borini converted.

It meant Sunderland have the upperhand in the Capital One Cup semi-final ahead of the return leg at Old Trafford in 13 days time after securing a 2-1 lead.

Johnson accepts there have been too many occasions when he has been unable to have the impact he had against the Premier League champions since leaving Manchester City in August 2012.

Shortly before his departure from the Etihad Stadium was also the last time he played for England, when he helped Hodgson’s side to a 2-1 win over Italy in Switzerland.

Johnson was called up for four of England’s World Cup qualifiers, but the last of those was when he was an unused substitute for the 1-1 draw with Poland on October 16 that year.

Since then he has not even been considered while Andros Towsend, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Adam Lallana are among those to have moved ahead of the Easington-born winger in the international pecking order.

Johnson, hoping to end the campaign on a high after his excellent cameo outing against the Red Devils, thinks his chances of boarding the plane to Brazil in the summer have gone despite confirmation that Theo Walcott has been ruled out through injury.

“I think I’m probably too far away now. I think his (Hodgson) mind’s made up. He’s used 30-odd players since then and I haven’t been one of them. But I won’t give up,” said Johnson.

“Theo’s quite a good friend of mine so it wasn’t nice to see that happen to him but you’ve got to take your chance. You never know, he (Hodgson) might come and watch a few of our games and playing in big games against big teams helps.

“Hopefully he had someone watching against Manchester United. It’s always going to be in the back of your mind to go to a World Cup having been involved with England for a few years until I signed for Sunderland. It’s still difficult but you never know. Stranger things have happened.”

Johnson missed the cut at both the last World Cup in 2010 and for Euro 2012 when Fabio Capello and Hodgson left him out of their final squads after initially including him on provisional ones.

Club boss Gus Poyet is not concerned about the England aspect, but he did see enough from the former Middlesbrough man on Tuesday to suggest he can have a key role to play in keeping Sunderland in the Premier League.

“I went home that night convinced Adam can help us and give us a massive hand between now and the end of the season. It was one of the biggest plus-points of the night,” said Poyet.

“It is up to us and up to him. We have to give him a chance to perform and he has to play like that more often, by being aggressive on the ball, commanding and taking people on. I hope he continues and does really well until the end of the season.”

Sunderland, interested in signing Argentine centre-back Santiago Vergini from Estudiantes this month, head for Fulham on Saturday desperate for inspiration from somewhere.

While excitement will inevitably build up to the Capital One Cup semi-final second leg at United, Sunderland could do with collecting six points against the Cottagers and then Southampton with a four point gap to close to safety.

Johnson said: “We seem to do it in the cups but we can’t quite seem to do it in the league. We’ve had a few good performances in the league we’re just not quite consistent. It’s important to just go out there again and do the same thing and hope it comes.

“Consistency is the main thing. That’s why the top teams are the best, they’re the most consistent. That’s the hardest thing in football, winning game after game after game, especially in this league – and the cups – with the quality of teams around us.”

Sunderland’s cup fortunes so far this season have opened a debate about the importance of top-flight survival over reaching the latter stages of knock-out competitions.

Sunderland have not won a major trophy since 1973, but Johnson thinks ending that drought would be soured considerably by relegation in the same season.

“A cup final is just one game in the season, you play in the Premier League for a full season,” said Johnson. “It’s much more important to me personally. It’s about being a Premier League footballer.

“We’ve seen over the years how many teams have won the cup, gone down and never been seen again. You’ve still got to do well in the cups and if you do it’s great, but the main priority is the league.”

Poyet continues to explore ways of strengthening his squad this month, while there remains interest from a number of clubs in taking Steven Fletcher away from the North-East.

But Hull boss Steve Bruce, who did not deny interest, has dismissed suggestions that he has made an £8m offer for the Scotland international. Celtic and West Ham are also monitoring the situation.

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