Fans chant new boy's name as Oli hits ground running
David Cuffley New signing Oli Johnson was close to grabbing one of Norwich City's fastest debut goals after their more established strikers had delivered a ninth successive League One home win.
New signing Oli Johnson was close to grabbing one of Norwich City's fastest debut goals after their more established strikers had delivered a ninth successive League One home win.
Just 24 hours after completing his move from Stockport, the 22-year-old was sent on as a late substitute at a packed Carrow Road on Saturday and very nearly added further gloss to the 3-1 scoreline against Exeter City.
Johnson came on seven minutes from time and his jinking run past three defenders, crowned by a curling right-foot shot that whistled just past the angle of post and crossbar, quickly had the home crowd chanting his name.
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A goal, perhaps, would have been just too good to be true for the former non-League forward.
“It would have been nice - I actually thought it was in for a second,” he said. “But I'm pleased just to get on the pitch. You just want to get on, get a few touches, keep the ball moving and the goal would have been a bonus, but I'm still fairly pleased with my 10 minutes on the pitch.
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“It seems like a while since I actually kicked a ball. I've not played too much football or trained much this week due to the weather and travelling down to sign for Norwich, so I'm happy just to get on.”
The crowd's reception quickly made Johnson feel at home, he explained: “I think it gives you that extra bit of a lift when you see so many fans. It was such an atmosphere. I think I'm going to enjoy playing in front of that crowd.
“You're always out to make a good impression on the fans, so to get a little chant like that is pleasing. I didn't really expect it, being a new player.
“I think when you come to a new club it's as if you've got nothing to fear. You don't know so much how your team-mates play and things like that. It gives you a new lease of life as well, so I think you just have to go out with the attitude that you've got nothing to lose on your debut.”
Two goals from skipper Grant Holt and one from Chris Martin enabled Paul Lambert's Canaries to close the gap to six points on leaders Leeds, who were held to a 1-1 draw at home to Wycombe in the only other League One match to survive the severe weather. Only seven games were played in England's four divisions.
“The way it's worked out it's been ideal,” said Johnson. “It's always better to have the points on the board rather than the games in hand because, psychologically, Charlton and whoever else will be looking up the table, seeing Norwich are three points in front of them and they know they've got to go out there and claw those points back. Leeds dropping points is a bonus.
“It's good to be up there near the top. I've not really experienced this feeling in my career. I've been playing mainly in the lower reaches of League One in my short time, so it's a great feeling.”
Johnson, who was introduced to the media on Friday along with fellow new recruit Zak Whitbread, soon learned that he could be involved against Exeter.
He said: “I found out on Friday in training when the squad went up. I wasn't entirely sure whether I would be in the squad. I know I've got no divine right to walk in and get straight into the team or straight on to the bench so I'm pleased that the manager has shown that faith in me.”
Yorkshire-born Johnson, who was playing for Northern Counties East League club Nostell Miners Welfare until he joined Stockport 15 months ago, admitted it was hard to take in his new surroundings.
“It's all happened really quickly,” he said. “It's a bit of a whirlwind, really, especially coming to a club the size of Norwich. It might take a while to sink in but I'm just delighted with it all so far.”
Lambert believes Johnson will develop quickly with the help of City's impressive front three of Holt, Martin and Hoolahan, who have already scored 49 goals between them this season.
“Oli was excellent for 10 minutes and he's met everybody yesterday for the first time,” said Lambert. “He's an unknown quantity for a lot of people but he could have a massive career in the game if he keeps on learning and keeps on working hard. Yes, he'll do fine for us.
“I'm sure he'll learn from Grant - and Chrissy Martin is younger than him, I think. As for Wes, his two passes for the goals were world-class, there's no doubt. His assist level is phenomenal and he is a top, top footballer. I'm sure Oli will learn from them.”