New role has put Johnson back in the frame

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IN the space of just four games, Reda Johnson has resurrected his Sheffield Wednesday career.

The Benin international looked surplus to requirements at Hillsborough when manager Gary Megson signed both Rob Jones and Danny Batth in the summer.

Yet Johnson is now back in the fold and impressing at left-back when, even by his own admission, he would rather play in the centre of defence.

The Owls are unbeaten since his return to the side and are looking to record a seventh consecutive home victory today, against Colchester United.

Megson even picked Johnson for last weekend’s Steel City derby, underlining his new-found popularity.

Johnson had missed the previous weekend’s game against Chesterfield on international duty and, in his absence, the Owls had recorded a 3-1 victory with summer signing Julian Bennett at left-back.

“When you are called by your country, you can only be happy. The emotion is even more than when you play for your (club) team,” said Johnson. “The gaffer wanted me to stay but football is like that. You have to go.”

The good news for the Owls is that Benin have failed to qualify for next January’s African Nations Cup which will enable Johnson to concentrate on club football and winning promotion to the Championship.

Until last month, Johnson, 23, had played only once previously at left-back and had made his reputation firmly as a centre-back.

“Everyone knows my best position for me is centre-half,” he said. “I think I am the biggest left-back in the division, maybe England. But I am happy to play there because I don’t like to be substitute. I will play left-back, midfield, or striker if the gaffer tells me to play in this position.

“I don’t know if I would be happy spending the rest of my career there. Not when I have worked in the academies since I was a child as a centre-half.

“The day I go back to centre-back will also be a lot easier for me. I have to run a lot more now. Before I had to kick the ball for the striker and now I have to cross. It’s different but I am happy. I have to play in more positions for the good of my career.”

Johnson revealed that team-mate Lewis Buxton, who has made a similar switch from centre-back to right-back, has been instrumental in helping him get used to the demands of the new role.

“I have learned a lot from Lewis. He’s a good right-back and I’m trying to do the same. We work on things after training and he gives me a lot of help for my position.”

Johnson was at the centre of major controversy in the Steel City derby.

The Owls grabbed a draw in the closing stages and Blades manager Danny Wilson felt Johnson had ‘wiped out’ goalkeeper Steve Simonsen in the build-up to the equalising goal.

Asked for his verdict on events, Johnson questioned Simonsen’s judgment instead and asked why he had come off his line to win a high ball against three Wednesday players.

“If I was a goalkeeper, I would not have been coming,” he said. “We had three on the ball. You want to come? I don’t know why. If I was him, I would have stayed on my goalline. If some people think it is a foul, okay. For me, however, it is not a foul.”

Over 28,000 supporters attended last weekend’s derby including 4,300 Owls fans – and another 11,000 supporters watched a live beamback at Hillsborough.

For the player who arrived at Hillsborough via Plymouth Argyle and French club Amiens, it was a major career milestone.

“It was amazing and a game I will remember all my life,” he said. “It was my first big derby. I had played only one derby before and that was Plymouth against Exeter. We are lucky to have such fans and I think that is a big reason why we have won the last six games at home.

“I don’t like to speak a lot about what we will do this season but we will give it our best,” he added. “I knew I was signing for a massive club and our right place is the Premier League.”