‘At Norwich we had a real togetherness’ – Johnson gunning for more Wembley glory with Rams
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Bradley Johnson can see strong similarities between the Derby team he heads to Wembley with today and the Norwich squad which he enjoyed play-off final success with four years ago.
The former City midfielder will try to repeat that achievement when the Rams take on Aston Villa in the Championship showpiece (3pm), as they look to join the Canaries in the Premier League next season.
"These are the games you want to play in as a professional, you want to play in the biggest games, and I feel this is one of the biggest games in this country," said Johnson. "Everyone talks about the riches of the Championship play-off final, so yeah we're excited but as players you can't let that affect your performance.
"We were excited after the game (beating Leeds) when we knew we were going to Wembley and we've had a long week now to take in that we are actually going to play there and prepare for the game, so that when we come to the game we're going to be cool, calm and collected - and hopefully go out there and get the win."
Asked if Frank Lampard's squad were ready for the Premier League, the former City star replied: "Definitely. At Norwich we had a real togetherness off the pitch and we've got that here. The manager encourages us to do stuff together off the pitch, we all meet up locally and do a lot of stuff outside the training ground.
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"The squad that we've got here, the talent speaks for itself, we've got some great young players and some experienced players who have been in the Premier League before. So I think we are ready for the Premier League."
The 32-year-old, whose contract is set to expire this summer, admits there's a different feel to this play-off push though as Derby snuck into sixth on the final day.
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Talking to Rams TV about his experience with Norwich, he continued: "We were up there all season, it was a tough league that year and we finished third. We're going into this game on a massive high, it wasn't like that at Norwich.
We played Ipswich in the semi-final and beat them 3-1 at home but this one, our last play-off game was special (winning 4-2 at Elland Road). That's given everyone a lot of confidence and I feel that if we play like we did in the second leg, we can beat anyone, so we're confident."
Johnson was a shock deadline day sale at the start of the following top-flight season, with Alex Neil persuaded to accept a £7million bid from Derby and the former Leeds midfielder has since made almost 150 appearances for the Rams.
He didn't feature at all in December or January though, after being banned for an extra four games following an alleged bite of Stoke midfielder Joe Allen, but has played every minute of the last 14 matches after regaining the trust of former England and Chelsea star Lampard.
"I've had my ups and downs this season," Johnson admitted. "I wasn't in the team at the beginning and then got back in the team but had the incident before Christmas, got banned and then found myself wondering what was going to happen to me.
"But I've trained hard, kept my head down. I'm experienced enough now to know that you're going to get your chance, it's a long season, so I kept my head down, trained hard, got my chance and I feel I've taken my chance."