Rapid front-man Andy Johnson faces the prospect of being Fulham’s forgotten man after being sideline by injury for most of the year.
After helping Fulham last season to an historic 7th place in the league and the inevitable Europa League place that came with it last season, Johnson achieved a fairly decent return of 10 goals in 36 games in all competitions and although this is not especially prolific, his ability to get beyond his man and run in the channels was integral to Fulham’s style of play.
With Bobby Zamora unable to hit a barn door last term, Johnson stepped up to the mantle of senior striker, a position that seems extremely far away nowadays. Roy Hodgson is an excellent man manager, his style is comparable to that of a Dickensian fruit and veg seller and he is unlikely to abandon Johnson after one season of injury struggles but he may play a reduced role upon his return.
The faith with which Hodgson placed in Zamora after a difficult season last year and after turning down repeated summer bids from Hull City shows his determination to stick by a player he feels serves the team well, and this does bode well for Johnson, but with February proving an excellent month for Fulham as well as coinciding with the month that Johnson’s latest knee injury ruled him out for the rest of the season, Johnson must be growing increasingly concerned about his place in the team.
Johnson has been restricted to just eight appearances so far this season and has shown himself to be susceptible to little niggles throughout his career and as such he cannot often be relied upon to play an entire campaign and Hodgson may look to strengthen his attack in the summer.
With Diomansay Kamara performing well in Scotland for Celtic on loan and new signing Stefano Okaka already off the mark for Fulham after a goal in the FA Cup against Notts County last month it would appear his rivals are stepping up their game. His saving grace is that Fulham have relied upon goals from midfield this season and with a small squad such as theirs he’s always likely to be involved in the first team squad when fit.
It may also help that with Fulham 10th at present, they look unlikely to repeat this season’s European excursions in the Europa League and this means that there will be less emphasis on improving squad size to cope with the rigours of extra matches’ year on year in the summer, with additions likely to be set on improving quality instead. Erik Nevland and David Elm do provide competition for places but are considered back-ups by Hodgson at the moment.
During his time at Everton Johnson was very much outgrown by his team in his absence. The Everton of Johnson’s time compared to that of the one today, are immeasurably different in playing style and quality, and you can’t help but get the feeling that Johnson will forever be viewed as a stop gap, a player who serves a purpose for the short term but one that’s limited ability cannot be relied upon to take your team to the next level in the long term.
In his short spell at Everton they evolved from a side that played a counter-attacking game utilising Johnson’s pace on the break to one that played possession football with every player (barring Tony Hibbert of course) capable of playing the ball to feet. This it is fair to say is not Johnson’s strong point and Everton outgrew the need for a player of Johnson’s limited game and skills set and the parallels in the evolving style of play of both Everton and Fulham after they achieved their initial success, which Johnson most definitely helped them to, are startlingly similar in their patterns.
For Fulham to truly reach the next level and stay around the mid-table/ pushing for Europe mark they will have to have a better consistent partner up front for Zamora than Johnson. At 29 years of age, time is on his side and he will most certainly still be at Fulham next season, but whether he’ll be needed as much as he was last season is unlikely and Hodgson’s Fulham have developed in his absence from a side built on defensive solidity and counter-attacking play to a genuinely aesthetically pleasing outfit to watch and their play has unquestionably evolved – unless Johnson does the same, he may find himself in a similar predicament to the one that he found himself in at Everton.