SUNDERLAND winger Adam Johnson was not surprised when he was overlooked for the last England squad, insisting his chances of being picked by Roy Hodgson would be significantly greater if he was playing for a team in the Premier League’s top eight.
Johnson’s World Cup hopes are hanging by a thread after he was left out of the 30-man squad to face Denmark earlier this month, which was the final gathering before Hodgson names his provisional squad in May.
The Sunderland player’s omission arrived despite being named January’s Barclays Premier League player of the month during a run of seven goals in nine games which gave his club a fighting chance of avoiding relegation to the Championship.
Such good form led to Hodgson personally running the rule over him at the Stadium of Light, but was not enough to secure his place in the enlarged pool of players selected for the Denmark game at Wembley just days after the Capital One Cup final defeat to Manchester City.
Of that 30-man squad, 25 all play for a team in the top-flight’s top eight, while Jermain Defoe was at Tottenham before he joined Toronto. The only other outfield player to be included not from a top eight side was Cardiff’s Steven Caulker.
Johnson said: “I think a lot of people were surprised. I think a lot of people saw me as almost a certainty but if you look at the last squad it was almost all top eight bar Caulker, who wasn’t meant to be in it but for (Phil) Jagielka’s injury. I think that says a lot about the selection. I don’t think it really matters how well you’re playing, it’s who you play for.
“It’s a fact isn’t it? If you look at the last ten squads: Southampton have been playing well, they’re in the top eight – and the rest are Everton, Tottenham, Man United, City, clubs like that.
“All my caps came when I was at City. Sometimes I got picked when I wasn’t playing. Now I’m playing more and I can’t get a cap. It’s just a fact. It’s not me being sour. Some of the players, if they weren’t playing for the big clubs, wouldn’t be anywhere near it (the squad).
“I came to Sunderland to play more, rather than thinking about England. But some games I wasn’t even on the bench at City but I was still in the England squad.”
Johnson has not featured in an England get together since he was an unused substitute in a World Cup qualifier against Poland in 2012. Yet last month’s appearance of Hodgson in the North-East for the first time since succeeding Fabio Capello did raise Wearside hopes of an inclusion.
“I felt it was probably the closest I’d been under Roy Hodgson,” said Johnson. “But in his mind I don’t think he really wanted any big decisions to make so he stuck with the players who had been around since the start of the campaign. That’s life, that’s the way it goes. It will be interesting to see how it goes in the World Cup and what happens after.”
If there are injuries to the wingers ahead of him in Hodgson’s thinking then he could yet still be on the plane to Brazil. Andros Townsend, Adam Lallana, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Raheem Sterling and James Milner are all ahead of the former Middlesbrough man.
But Johnson is not thinking too far ahead. He said: “I haven’t really thought about it since the (the announcement of) the last squad, I’ve just got on with it.
“I think it will probably take a few injuries for me to get in but if you’re still playing well and fit, you never know. In December I was probably 50th choice, and it was only in January people started talking about it. I’ve got to just play my game.”
Despite Sunderland’s inability to score against Crystal Palace on Saturday, Johnson was arguably Gustavo Poyet’s most creative player on the afternoon.
He started particularly brightly, but Steven Fletcher was guilty of wasting one notable chance which was put on a plate for him by his team-mate.
Johnson is not thinking of Brazil
The goalless draw did nothing to ease the threat of relegation engulfing the Stadium of Light and a victory at Norwich City this weekend might not be enough to see them climb out of the relegation zone.
Johnson was critical of the way Palace approached the trip to Wearside, even though the point secured by the Eagles has boosted their own attempts to stay in the Premier League.
“We did all right, to be fair,” said Johnson. “We gave it a good go but I don’t think Palace wanted to win. We should be beating them, to be fair.
“I think every team will be looking at the league table and thinking they should be beating them if they’re going to play like that and not even have any intention of trying to win the game. It’s difficult trying to break down 11 players.
“I think we were just unlucky. If we’d got the first goal it might have been three or four but it was tough getting that first goal. When they’ve got something to hang onto it’s hard.
“It’s a point better than we’d had from recent games. We wanted to win and we expected to win it but you’ve just got to move on. We’ll be going to Norwich to win as well.”
- Sunderland's Under-21s lost 2-1 at Leeds United yesterday in a friendly. The Whites scored two goals in the first half and pulled one back through Mikael Mandron.