After three losses in a row in the league, Preston North End were rooted to the foot of the Championship table with no positive signs emerging from the club.
That was until Saturday afternoon where they finally got three points on the board with a 1-0 victory over Peterborough United – but it should have been so much more comfortable.
Patrick Bauer’s first half header separated the two sides however the likes of Scott Sinclair, Emil Riis and Ben Whiteman all went so close on multiple occasions to inflicting a heavier defeat on Darren Ferguson’s men.
It was a much improved performance on the whole from anything we have seen of Frankie McAvoy’s side so far in the league this season, and one player looked back to his very best in Daniel Johnson.
The Jamaica international has simply been a revelation since joining the Lilywhites for just £50,000 in January 2015, and his best goalscoring season for the club came in the 2019-20 campaign where he bagged 12 times in the Championship.
Johnson’s form that season led to a summer pursuit from Scottish giants Rangers, but they failed to bring the midfielder to Ibrox and months later, ‘DJ’ penned a new contract at Deepdale.
It wasn’t Johnson’s finest season though – he spent a period of time between January and March 2021 where he was not starting games and missed the final seven matches of the season through injury.
Johnson didn’t start the opening match of this season against Hull City either but he has played every single minute since the victory over Mansfield Town in the EFL Cup and skippered PNE against Posh on Saturday.
The stats sum up how well the 28-year-old, as well as many of his team-mates performed on the day in what was a refreshing chance from the opening three matches of the campaign, with PNE playing football on the floor and on the front foot.
Quiz: Have Preston North End won or lost more against each of these 25 English teams?
Playing in the most advanced midfield role out of himself, Ben Whiteman and Ryan Ledson, Johnson was a constant threat in the box and the only let-down of his game was perhaps his finishing.
After intercepting a Peterborough defender in his own area in the first half, Johnson blazed the ball over the bar in what was a glorious chance to double North End’s advantage.
And late on in the match when they were pushing to seal the victory, Johnson collected Andrew Hughes’ long diagonal ball sweetly in the penalty area before shrugging off the challenge of an opposition defender, but he dragged his shot just wide of Christy Pym’s near post.
Aside from wayward finishing, Johnson was always looking to make things happen. He completed four dribbles out of an attempted five, his passing accuracy was at 88% and he played five successful passes into the final third of the pitch out of six.
Even though he’s quite small and not exactly a physical player either, Johnson won all four aerial duels he attempted in the match which shows he is perhaps adding a new side to his game the older he gets.
It does now feel like the Johnson of two seasons ago is slowly starting to come back and it’s going to be hard for Alan Browne to displace him when he’s come out of isolation.