Johansson braced for hot reception
Jonatan Johansson will be bumping into one or two old friends in south London on Saturday. And while he might receive a warm welcome from his Finnish international pal Aki Riihilahti at Crystal Palace, for the thousands of Palace fans who witnessed Johansson and his Charlton team-mates send the Eagles down an altogether different welcome might await.
City loan signing Jonatan Johansson will be bumping into one or two old friends in south London tomorrow.
And while he might receive a warm welcome from his Finnish international pal Aki Riihilahti as the Canaries' flickering hopes of stealing a late invite to this season's play-offs face a big test away at Crystal Palace (3pm), for the thousands of Palace fans who witnessed Johansson and his Charlton team-mates send the Eagles down on the final day of last season an altogether different welcome might await.
“There is a little bit of history between Charlton and Crystal Palace,” said Johansson, with a wry smile of a veteran south London derby warrior.
“And, yes, I did play for the full 90 minutes against Palace on the final day of the season when any of the teams could have gone down - Norwich, Palace, West Bromwich Albion or Southampton.
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“They were 2-1 up with minutes to go and then we equalised,” recalled the 30-year-old striker, as Johnathan Fortune's 82nd minute leveller condemned the Eagles to the drop and left Johansson getting the beers in afterwards.
“I am very good friends with Aki Riihilahti - I think he's injured this weekend - and he played in the game, too. So as they'd been relegated I bought him a drink afterwards and it will be good to see him again this weekend.”
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Having not won at Selhurst Park in their last eight visits, tomorrow's rematch with Iain Dowie, Andrew Johnson and Company will provide a real test for Nigel Worthington's rebuilt side - a side that now features a new right-sided midfielder in Johansson. It is, he admits, a change of role, but one he insists he is relishing.
“I am enjoying playing out there more and more - particularly after last week,” said Johansson after his second strike in only his fifth City appearance set the Canaries on their way to a comfortable 2-0 success against the struggling Rams.
“I've played a lot out on the right in a 4-3-3, but not so much in a 4-4-2. So it takes a while to get used to it, working with your full-back, doing more of the defensive work but I think I'm getting used to it, getting more confident in that role.
“And it's nice just to be playing regularly again. When you're not, it gets frustrating.”
Johansson may have been in Norfolk for less than a month, but he knows exactly how much tomorrow's trip to south London could mean with regard to the last two months of City's roller-coaster season - 3-1 victors at Sheffield United one week, 4-0 losers at Reading the next.
“It is a massive game for us - a difficult game; a big test,” said Johansson, buoyed by events of last week with back-to-back clean sheets, five goals and six points to Norwich's name.
“I think we can go into the game with a good platform in terms of our confidence. We all know that we need a result and, obviously, I'm hopeful that we'll get it.”
City boss Nigel Worthington has just one injury concern ahead of this weekend's crunch clash - midfielder Andy Hughes who is struggling with a tweaked hamstring.
Given the need for the Canaries to fight physical fire with fire in terms of mixing it with Palace's combative skipper Michael Hughes, Worthington could yet call on Dickson Etuhu to go toe-to-toe in a bruising midfield contest although the smarter money is on the City boss at least starting with the central midfield duo that finished against Derby County with Carl Robinson partnering Youssef Safri.
The simple fact that, Hughes apart, Norwich are likely to be unchanged for the fourth successive game is a big boost for Worthington.
As for Iain Dowie's Palace, all eyes will be up front where Johnson is expected to return after missing the Eagles' last two games with a badly gashed thigh. Dowie would only confirm that the one-time England World Cup hopeful was “50/50” for tomorrow's game. But given AJ's goal-scoring record against the Canaries - including that infamous penalty in the dramatic 3-3 Premiership clash at Selhurst Park at the end of last season - it would be a major surprise if he is not partnering former City transfer target Clinton Morrison in attack.