ADAM JOHNSON’S lack of recent match-action could count against him in his bid to return to the Sunderland starting XI for the Wear-Tyne derby.
Johnson has proved to be Newcastle’s nemesis over the last two years, with the Easington-born winger netting in three of Sunderland’s four consecutive victories over the Magpies – including the dramatic late winner at St James’s Park in December.
He’s still not 100 per cent sharp. But quality-wise, he’s one of the best playersDICK ADVOCAAT
But the 27-year-old may have to be content with a spot on the bench for Dick Advocaat’s opening home game in charge of Sunderland tomorrow, as the Black Cats aim for five derby wins on the spin.
Johnson has played just 20 minutes of competitive football since February’s defeat at Manchester United after he was suspended by the club, following his arrest on suspicion of sexual activity with a girl under 16.
The ex-Manchester City man made his comeback as a substitute at West Ham a fortnight ago, yet head coach Advocaat is still cautious over whether Johnson is sharp enough to start against Newcastle, regardless of whether he is mentally fit.
When asked if Johnson would start, Advocaat told SportMail: “It depends how we will play.
“We have an idea what we will do with Adam, although I am not going to say that. But he was out for several weeks. He needs sharpness.
“He’s still not 100 per cent sharp. But quality-wise, he’s one of the best players, so we will see how we do.”
If Advocaat does start Johnson, it is likely to prompt a reshuffle of the 4-3-1-2 system which the ex-Holland manager opted for at West Ham, when Connor Wickham operated in the hole behind strikers Steven Fletcher and Jermain Defoe.
That formation prompted an improvement in Sunderland’s performance, albeit Advocaat still wasn’t happy with how some players failed to follow his instructions.
But ultimately, for the fifth time in the last six Premier League outings, Sunderland failed to find the net.
Wickham, Fletcher and January signing Defoe have netted just three goals between them in 2015, yet Advocaat does not appear particularly concerned by the recent fortunes of his frontmen.
“I think for strikers, it can all change in one second,” he added.
“They have that natural feeling they can score goals if they are always in the right place.
“They have that. That’s God’s gift. They don’t forget that because they keep standing in the right place to touch the ball.
“I have no doubt about that. If they keep doing it, the goals will come.”
Meanwhile, Santiago Vergini has earned a nod of approval from Advocaat on the training ground this week, ahead of the defender’s expected recall for the Wear-Tyne derby.
Vergini is almost certain to return to the Sunderland starting XI tomorrow after Wes Brown was ruled out for several weeks with the knee injury he sustained at West Ham a fortnight ago.
Brown, out of contract in the summer, could struggle to play again this season, with the 35-year-old potentially facing a six-week spell on the treatment table, albeit Sunderland’s medical staff are hopeful of a swifter return.