Preston North End’s Jamaican midfielder Daniel Johnson is looking for a positive start to the final nine games of the season.
The Lilywhites’ No.11, who has been in fine form during the 2019/20 campaign, it looking to start quickly when the action gets back underway with the trip to face Luton Town at Kenilworth Road next weekend.
“It will literally be nine cup finals and that’s how we have to go into the games,” the 27-year-old told iFollow PNE. “It is going to be tough, because we are playing back-to-back games every week and in a normal season you would only normally play maybe four or five games back-to-back.
“There is going to be physical and mental pressures on everyone to really scrap out those nine games, but it will be a cup final every match. The position we are in, it is up to us to go and see it through – everything is in our hands at the moment.
“It is very important that we start well. It is going to be really demanding for us as players, physically and mentally and it is important we start well. With the protocols and the guidelines, there is only so much that you can get in terms of recovery – like massages. We haven’t been able to get any treatment recently and that is going to be the way forward for these games coming up – so it is really important we start well.
“We have now got to step up and take responsibility. We have to be professionals and be adults, because even though there are boys who might only be 19, 20, 21, the onus is on you now, you have to take responsibility to look after yourself, look after your body and make sure you are available for as many of the nine games as possible.
“It is going to be tough for any player to play those nine games to the best of their ability – no one is going to be 100 per cent for the full nine games, it is actually impossible, as some point everyone is going to run out of steam and need that rest, so it is really important you look after yourself and I am sure we will.
“It is so important that everyone stays as healthy as they can be, because at some point you are going to be called upon to play your part and as much as you want to keep that shirt and make sure you are available for all the games, it is going to be really tough to get through all those games, so everyone has to look after themselves and take responsibility to make sure you are doing everything right and can be available for as many games as possible.”
Being back in now for more than a fortnight, the team are closing in on being ready for the resumption of competitive matches, even if they are behind closed doors and DJ says they are ready, although he is not necessarily looking forward to being able to hear every shout coming from the dugout!
“It has been an unfortunate situation, but I am glad we can put things back into place now, get back out there and finish off the season,” he continued. “And hopefully for us, we can finish off the season on a high and get in those Play-Offs.
“We have followed every protocol and all the guidelines and speaking for myself, I have felt safe on every occasion, coming into the training ground, being around the staff and the boys – I have had no issues. Everything is as normal as it can be, but it has been a weird situation and I am just glad that is behind us now and next week when we go down to Luton, hopefully we can kick start things with a win.
“The gaffer is a really intense worker and so is Tom [Little], our fitness coach, and it was only right that they stayed on top of us during these times to make sure everyone was in the right nick when we did come back.
“Genuinely, everyone does a bit by themselves anyway, to make sure that they keep ticketing over, to make sure they are in a good healthy position when they do come back, to make sure they were not behind and fair play to the boys, when they did come back, they looked in good nick and we just can’t wait to get going now.
“It feels weird [to play behind closed doors]. We have had two games there now, amongst ourselves, and, to be honest, you know there is not a crowd there, but once you are tuned in to the game, you are fully focused and you don’t realise as much there is no-one watching, other than when a goal goes in or the goalkeeper makes a great save, because normally you would then hear the crowd jump up and cheer. It is a weird situation and unfortunate for the fans that they can’t be there, but that has to happen and we just have to get away with it.
“I am not looking forward to hearing everything the gaffer shouts! Sometimes you do hear him, it is that loud and I am sure no-one is looking forward to that, whatever team they are playing for.”
DJ’s own season has been excellent, influential from the first weeks of the season until the games were called off in March, but he is not resting on his laurels: “I have looked back on it as what I have done, I have done already and I can’t go back and do anything else.
“For me it feels like turning a new leaf and I am going to try and replicate what I did and not take into consideration what I have already done. I am going to set myself personal targets for those nine games and see where we get to and hopefully for us, we can back ourselves and really do what we can to stay in the position and by the Bristol game hopefully we are still there, or maybe a bit further and who knows? Let’s see what happens.
“It is a new leaf for everyone, but it is not a new season – it is nine games and it could possibly turn into 12… hopefully, but we just have to attack it and for us and many other teams it comes down to the determination and who wants it more, as well as who can utilise their squad the best as they can, with their players coming to the party and delivering.”
And whilst, as previously mentioned, fans can sadly not be in the stadium to cheer on Alex Neil’s side, the former Villa man is encouraging support from home to be as vociferous as possible.
“It is unfortunate for them, because they want to be there live and shout and scream and do all the things that they normally do, but we just have to get on with it and hopefully next season we can put this behind us and we can be in the Premier League by then.
“It is what it is, just stick with us, we are going to do as good a job as we can to push through and get over that line, because it is going to be massive for everyone – the football club, the players, the staff, so shout as much as you want at the telly. We can’t hear you, but maybe that will spring up on one of us to do something special.
“We have to stick together, utilise the squad as much as we can, everyone stay healthy and take responsibility to look after themselves and let’s see what happens,” he added.