If you’re not sure what being in limbo is like, you need to look no further as we are going to look at a young lad out on loan from Wolves who finds himself in that very situation. After a loan-spell with varying levels of success at Telford United last year, Connor Johnson returned to Molineux and was looking forward to another season. I don’t know this as a fact, but I can’t imagine it to be too far from the truth – Johnson knew that he wasn’t going to force his way into the first team this year, so he was always going to go out on loan once again. He flirted with Jumilla over the summer and while several of our young players signed a season long-loan in Spain, Johnson came back to the Black Country.
Rather than playing games in Ibiza and other Mediterranean climates, Johnson finds himself playing in the Checkatrade Trophy for Walsall. Once again, I’m not sure whether it was Johnson’s decision to move back to the West Midlands or Jumilla’s, either way, it’s safe to say he’s drawn the proverbial short straw. This season, Johnson has only found himself featuring in the aforementioned Checkatrade Trophy and has yet to even make a substitute appearance in the league. That’s made all the more strange by the fact that there are only seven teams in League One with worse defensive records than the Saddlers. Anyway, rather than looking at why he isn’t playing in the league, we are going to analyse his recent Checkatrade game against Port Vale, which took place earlier this week.
One Extreme To The Other And Back Again
Alongside fellow Wolves loanee, Connor Ronan, Connor Johnson started for Walsall and to say he had a rather mixed evening would be quite the understatement. He got beaten in the air for Port Vale’s opening goal, then he scored the equaliser just before the interval. To top it off, he got sent off for a second bookable offence while the second-half was still young. So, we’ve got a fair bit to get our teeth into, let’s not waste any more time!
At this moment in time, there is not much at all to worry about. Johnson has got an eye on his man, the ball is in a ‘safe’ place and there’s not much going wrong. While Johnson might have the situation under control here, if we fast forward a few seconds, it’s a different situation altogether.
Without even moving onto the next image, one can only imagine that the majority of you know what’s going to happen from here. Johnson has gone from having a clear view of Quigley to not knowing where he is in a matter of seconds. Take nothing away from the attacker, it’s smart movement, although you’d like to think that a defender on loan from a Premier League club would have more about him.
To give you a better understanding of the next image, the ball isn’t delivered straight away as the arrow indicates above. The winger drives with the ball down the right-hand side before cutting back and then crossing it. It’s from a not too dissimilar position, but that’ll explain the position of Johnson and Quigley in this next image. Ready? Good.
Johnson has to be winning that ball. Let’s not pretend it’s an easy ball to win, but if Johnson wants that enough, you have to feel one of two things happen. He either clears Quigley out the way and wins it or they clash heads. Of course, there may well be a chance of a penalty being conceding and with the game only being a couple of minutes old it’s perhaps understandable, it’s just about weighing it up. In this instance, you have to acknowledge that Johnson made the wrong decision because the ball ended up in the back of the net.
An Upward Trajectory
On the whole, things could only get better for Johnson from the above. Save the red card, they did. Better players than Johnson have been disheartened by being at fault for goals early on and it’s gone on to affect their performance for the rest of the 90 minutes. Johnson banished any blues as such that he may well have had by putting his foot in just minutes later. See below.
Johnson has positioned himself directly behind the Port Vale forward, touch-tight is the term I believe they use. As well as having the attacker in close quarters he’s also got one eye on the ball. Proactive rather than reactive in this scenario, which is excellent to see. Considering he’s the last man (I think), it’s all the more important that he doesn’t get turned as it would leave the goalkeeper on his own.
Ok, so he’s not quite the last man, but if the Port Vale man manages to spin him like he tries to, Walsall are going to be in a spot of bother. Johnson wins it back and Walsall are then in a position to counter. Admittedly, nothing comes from it, nevertheless, it’s grand to see the centre-back not letting his earlier bad decision-making get him down.
Recovery In The Air
As well as atoning on the deck, he also made amends in the air. Port Vale win a free-kick in a rather ominous looking position and considering Johnson’s inability to deal with a cross earlier in the half, it’s perhaps of little surprise that he’s the player that Vale aim to attack.
From this angle, it seems that Port Vale have made the right choice by targetting the attacker who is meant to be under Johnson’s jurisdiction. He’s stolen a march on the 20-year-old and it seems that the outcome is foregone from here. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. Connor Johnson is nobody’s fool.
A fantastic recovery enables Johnson to rise above the Port Vale forward. He doesn’t get a great deal of power on the ball, however, the fact that he won the ball is bigger than the minor detail of power on the ball. Walsall got the ball clear in the end, so it was very much a case of all’s well that ends well.
Some Boxes Ticked
While Johnson could’ve done better for the goal, that’s not to say he didn’t hit some of the criteria that Nuno looks for in a centre-back. As everybody probably knows by now, if you want to play for Nuno, you need to be able to play with the ball, regardless of whether you play in goal or up front. So, Johnson’s pass completion rate of 93% is a step in the right direction. It wasn’t just easy passes made by Johnson, either, as is illustrated by his pass map.
To save you from counting, I can tell you there are 30 passes on there, 28 of them successful. Due to passing not being a massive part of Johnson’s game, unlike Ronan and Herc, we will move straight onto the goal that he scored just before halftime. The technique used to score the goal was that of a seasoned striker, not a young, up and coming centre-back.
Half A Yard In Front
Before the ball is whipped in, Johnson is already on the move towards the near post and more importantly, the unattended space. He loses his marker before the Vale player even knows what’s going on.
Johnson wins the ball in the air, flicks it on and that’s where we join the action above. He’s done very, very well to find a gap in between the two Vale defenders, no doubt watching it back, Neil Aspin, the Vale manager would’ve been fuming. Even still, before the ball finds its way to Johnson, Vale have an opportunity to clear the ball which they don’t take.
A scissor kick of sorts from Johnson sees him beat the Port Vale keeper from close range. His whole body was off the floor when he struck it, which counts as a belter in my book, irrespective of how far out it is. So, well done Connor – blinding goal.
Unfortunately, things took a turn for a worse after the break when he collected his second yellow. To give it some context, Johnson only made two fouls all game and picked a yellow card for each of them. Would you be screaming at the ref if it was someone on the opposing team on a yellow? 100%. See what you think.
A Second Yellow Of His Own Doing
Whether or not you think it was the right decision (we will come to it in more detail shortly), to mess it up from here is inexcusable. Yes, he’s got a Vale player hot on his heels, but all he has to do is knock it back to the keeper or worst case, out for a throw. Let’s see how it develops.
Johnson gets caught in two minds, he seemingly wants to head the ball, then thinks about kicking it and by the time he decides, the Vale forward has nicked the ball. If we’re honest with one another, it doesn’t look too good from here, Johnson is already tugging on his shirt and it’s hardly surprising he gets his marching orders. In hindsight, he was perhaps fortunate it wasn’t a straight red. Walsall were in the game with 11 men, but with ten, they didn’t stand a chance and Vale went on to win 2-1.
Johnson’s youthful naivety showed at times, nonetheless, his self-belief and ability mean that there is a decent player in there, he just needs more game time. Whether or not he will get that at Walsall remains to be seen, maybe it will take a couple of injuries and/or suspensions. Fingers crossed. Yes, that sounds a bit bad, wishing injury and/or suspension on a player, all the same, Johnson and Ronan are the only two I’m fussed about at Walsall.
Until the next time.