Johnson: Sunderland kept the faith
Published 02/02/2014 | 13:52
Derby hero Adam Johnson insists he never doubted that Sunderland have what it takes to drag themselves out of relegation trouble.
The 26-year-old England winger scored his seventh goal in as many games as the Black Cats romped to a 3-0 victory over Newcastle at St James' Park for the second successive season to maintain a two-point gap to the drop zone despite precious wins for Cardiff, West Ham and Stoke.
Sunderland have now won the last three derbies, something they had not done since 1923, and perhaps more importantly, secured back-to-back league wins for the first time since April last year when then manager Paolo Di Canio inspired something of a false dawn.
But under Gus Poyet, the Capital One Cup finalists are showing genuine signs of hauling themselves away from danger, and that is something Johnson always expected them to do even during the depths of their difficulties.
He said: "Even a couple of months ago, we were written off. We were seven points adrift and I was saying to everyone, if you saw the fixtures we had at home, we had played all the top teams.
"I said our time would come, and it has. We have played the teams around us at home - the Stokes - and we have got Hull on Saturday.
"Coming here, it's a derby and anything goes. It just proves there is still a lot of football to be played."
A delighted Poyet, whose 100 per cent record against the Magpies as Brighton and then Black Cats boss now extends to four games, has studiously avoided the hyperbole which characterised Di Canio's brief but chaotic reign on Wearside, and was refusing to be carried away even amid the euphoria of derby glory.
The head coach said: "It's my way, it's the way we believe football should be played, it's the way we believe we should treat players, it's the way we believe a club should work.
"We are convinced and we know it works. Of course, sometimes you need time. Sometimes you get the time depending on results, and that's up to the players, so we are delighted that the players have been doing it on the pitch. They have given us the time to show that.
"The team is so much better and that's why we are in the position we are in, and it would be a shame now to fail.
"The idea is to maintain the calm, to keep getting better, to use the players the best we can and to make sure we don't think about the cup final whatsoever and we go on and win the next game."
Sunderland were handed the opportunity to take the initiative when Vurnon Anita tripped Phil Bardsley as the pair chased Johnson's intelligent 19th-minute ball into the penalty area and referee Phil Dowd pointed to the spot.
Fabio Borini, the man whose late strike had beaten Newcastle at the Stadium of Light in October last year, dispatched the penalty high to keeper Tim Krul's right and from that point on, there was little doubt about the outcome.
Johnson himself doubled the lead within four minutes after Krul could only parry Jack Colback's shot, and although the Magpies rallied after the break, the England winger curled a shot against the foot of the post before Colback cemented the points with a third 10 minutes from time.
Sunderland's excellent recent run - they have now lost just twice in 14 games in all competitions - has coincided with Johnson rediscovering the kind of form which prompted Manchester City to snap him up and the Black Cats to invest £10million in his services.
Indeed, such has been his contribution that he is now being talked about once again as a candidate for Roy Hodgson's World Cup squad.
However, he has put his renaissance down as much to the contribution of the men around him as his own efforts.
He said: "Personally, it's been great for me as well. But for me to play well personally, the team has got to be playing well, any individual will tell you that.
"You can't come shining through a team that isn't playing well, it's impossible."