Johnson backs Norwich City to beat the drop
Former midfield star Andy Johnson is backing Norwich City to match the achievement of another of his old clubs, West Bromwich Albion, by retaining their Premier League status after promotion.
The Baggies secured a lofty 11th place in the top flight last season after finishing as Championship runners-up in 2009-10, giving hope that they have finally shrugged off the yo-yo years they experienced over the previous decade.
Johnson, who began his career with the Canaries, spent five years with Albion as they bounced between the top two divisions – promoted in 2002, relegated in 2003, promoted again in 2004, surviving on the last day of the season in 2005 and relegated again in 2006.
There was yet more drama after Johnson left Albion when they lost the Championship play-off final in 2007, were promoted as champions in 2008, relegated again after finishing rock bottom of the Premier League in 2009 and promoted once more a year later.
But as Albion prepare to take on Paul Lambert’s men in Sunday’s televised match at Carrow Road (1.30pm), Johnson believes last season’s mid-table finish, engineered by boss Roy Hodgson after he replaced Roberto di Matteo in February, is the signal for greater stability at The Hawthorns.
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And he hopes that City, who have spent only one of the past 16 seasons in the top flight, will follow the Midlands club into safe territory next May.
“Getting into the Premier League is great but it’s very, hard to stay there and some clubs have this yo-yo period,” said Johnson.
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“But I think West Brom will definitely stay up again and I think Norwich have a very good chance of staying up.
“The adrenalin gets you through the first season. The first season’s always great, you’re riding on the crest of a wave – but if you stay up, the second season and third season are tough and that’s where you really have to dig in and earn your money.”
Johnson’s fondest career memories are of his time with the Canaries and the Baggies.
He made his senior debut for City as a 17-year-old at Sheffield Wednesday in 1992 and his first senior goal a year later, in a 3-3 draw at Middlesbrough on the final day of the season, helped them book a UEFA Cup place.
He appeared briefly in each of the first three Premier League seasons and made 75 appearances for Norwich, scoring 15 times, before a �2.2m move to Nottingham Forest in 1997.
After four years at the City Ground, he joined Albion, managed at the time by former City team-mate Gary Megson.
“They were definitely my happiest times at those two clubs,” he said.
“I cut my teeth at Norwich and grew up with some great players like Ian Crook, Tim Sherwood, Robert Fleck and Mark Bowen.
“For a lot of the younger players coming through it was an excellent place to learn. Coming through the ranks with Premier League players was tremendous.”
Another team-mate was current City assistant manager Ian Culverhouse, Lambert’s right-hand man in masterminding successive promotions.
“Civvy was an excellent player, hardly ever missed a game, and a great professional – and he has carried that into his coaching career,” said Johnson.
“When you’re only a kid, you’re not really thinking about which players are going to become coaches and managers. That seems a million miles away. But looking back, it’s no surprise he and a few others in that side have gone into coaching.”
At Albion, a further 143 senior games followed for the Bristol-born Johnson, who also won 15 caps for Wales.
He said: “I had two promotions with West Brom and the great escape in 2005, though I didn’t played much after the January in that season because I had a nasty injury. But I have some great memories of the club and I’m pleased they are looking to become established in the Premier League.”
Neither City nor Albion have registered a Premier League victory as they go head-to-head on Sunday, with Hodgson’s team yet to collect their first point of the season. But Johnson argued: “I don’t think it’s too much of a concern at this stage. It’s not like they have played badly.
“I watched the Norwich game against Chelsea and I thought they were really outstanding and deserved a lot more than they got out of the game.
“And Manchester United and Chelsea were quite a difficult start for West Brom.”
City and West Bromwich Albion warm up for the main event with a Barclays Premier Reserve League fixture at Colney today (4pm). Admission is free with parking first come, first served from 3pm.