ADAM JOHNSON has warned his Sunderland teammates against complacency ahead of tomorrow’s Tyne-Wear derby.
Sunderland have won the last two encounters between the two sides, and Newcastle go into the fixture at St James’ Park without their captain Fabricio Coloccini, their top scorer Loic Remy, and in Yohan Cabaye, their most talented player.
But Johnson, who scored at St James’ Park in last season’s 3-0 win, still feels that Newcastle will be a great test for Gus Poyet’s side, who moved out of the relegation zone with a 1-0 win over Stoke City on Wednesday night.
“I think they have still got a pretty good squad,” said Johnson, who scored Sunderland’s only goal against The Potters on Wednesday. “I don’t think who plays really matters on the day. I think it is all about who wants it more on the day.
“I think other players will come through whoever plays. What we have to do is have a good first 20 minutes and quieten their fans.
“We have watched their games and we have to try and take advantage from anything that has happened to them. If there is any way we can get a one percent or two percent advantage over the opposition then that must be good for us.
“We will go into the game knowing it is a big blow for Newcastle to lose not just their best player, but their two best players. The goals Remy has scored speak for themselves, but it is still a very tough place to go at St James’ Park and we have just got to go for it.”
The momentum is very much with Sunderland at present, but that was not the case last season when they travelled to Tyneside desperately needing a victory to stay in the Premier League. That day, they managed to turn their form around and go on a run of results that ensured top-flight football.
It is a well-worn cliche, but Johnson believes the form book goes out of the window when it comes to derbies.
“Against them in head to heads we have had the upper hand, but they are doing very well in the league and are doing better than us, however, on derby day it is anybody’s,” said Johnson.
“We have shown in the last two derbies that we know how to win, but Newcastle are sitting a lot more comfortably in the league.
“We are through to a final, the next round of the FA Cup and we have won again in the league so everything is going great for us right now. The derby is one of those odd games though which is down to who wants it more.
“What a great occasion thought to play in the North-East derby at St James’ Park, everyone is so looking forward to it.”
Sunderland, who signed Argentina forward Nacho Scocco yesterday, and expect to add Liam Bridcutt to their squad today with a £3m deal to go through before the transfer window closes at 11pm tonight, have much to thank Johnson for, with the winger scoring six goals in six games in 2014 so far.
Though Johnson has argued that he has not changed his game since Gus Poyet arrived - just that everything seems to have fallen into place for the former Manchester City man.
“I’m in a bit of good form right now and I just hope it continues,” said Johnson. “That’s what happens when things go for you, everything seems to go right, so I’m delighted, but more importantly it was another win for us and that is all that matters.
“I’ve done nothing different. I honestly have not changed anything at all. I have always been confident in myself but things just weren’t coming off for me. I haven’t done anything different and have just kept working hard. You don’t turn into a bad player overnight and thankfully my best form has returned. “We are playing a different style of possession football now and it possibly suits the wingers more. Maybe that has been a factor. A lot of times in the past I had to run 70 yards with the ball to get out of my own half but now I am a lot more fresh. Maybe that has made a difference, I don’t know.”
Johnson would dearly love a repeat of last season’s result at St James’ Park tomorrow, with the ex-Middlesbrough winger curling home a fine effort in front of the away fans to put his side 2-0 up on the day, before David Vaughan made it three.
“What do I remember about last year? The obvious I would think. There will be a few players wanting to get one over us after what happened last year. There were a few angry people after the game – but that’s the derby for you. I’m so looking forward to it again,” said Johnson.
“The goal was in the biggest game of the season, the derby and those are the type of things that you play for to score like that in derbies. It was a great personal moment for me.
“The win made it so special. It is no different this year. If we can build on what we have done in the last couple of weeks and get a result there we will be happy and we are definitely going there to win. We have been very good away from home and have played very well.
“The passion of the fans in the North-East is unbelievable and I think our win there kept a few people happy on our side of the fence for several months.”
Johnson’s resurgence in form has led to calls for his recall to the England squad, with Theo Walcott’s injury leaving a vacancy for the plane to Brazil in the summer.
And as much as he enjoyed his Premier League form, Johnson still hankers for a return to the national squad.
I think if you score in the Premier League it is great but nothing really tops scoring for your country, especially at Wembley,” said Johnson. “If you ask anyone, that is the pinnacle as a player, although that obviously comes close.
“A derby goal for your hometown team does come close, but playing for your country and scoring has always been very special for me.”