Danny Johnson has hit the ground running at Motherwell

Danny Johnson has hit the ground running at Motherwell

By James Cairney

It’s been a busy transfer window at Fir Park. No fewer than seven signings have been brought in over the summer as Motherwell look to build on last season’s seventh place finish and push for a spot in the top half of the Premiership. It’s still early days in the new campaign but there’s one player who has caught the eye more than the rest.

 

Danny Johnson was recruited from Gateshead in England’s National League and has so far proven himself to be a handful in Scottish football. After five starts, Johnson has scored three goals – one into Clyde in the League Cup, the winner against Livingston and the opening goal from Motherwell’s thrilling 3-3 draw with Rangers last weekend.

 

It’s a decent haul for a player who is still acclimatising to Scottish football but, so far at least, the 25-year-old has made a strong start to life in Motherwell. Johnson looks to be a crucial part of Stephen Robinson’s plans for the season and the Northern Irishman is already getting the most out of the well-travelled striker’s talents.

 

A different option in attack

 

Johnson isn’t your typical Motherwell forward. Robinson usually prefers his forwards to be tall, strong and burly, yet Johnson is none of these things. The likes of Curtis Main and Connor Sammon might tower over the former Cardiff player, but this difference in stature also means that Johnson gives the Steelmen a different way of attacking the opposition.

 

 

The stats bear this out. Johnson is a far more direct striker than Main, Sammon or Ryan Bowman; attempting more dribbles and hitting fewer passes than his teammates. While Main or Sammon can be used as a target man that can win headers or hold play up until a teammate is available, Johnson prefers to drive towards goal in the hope of fashioning an opening for himself.

 

He’s right to do so too – Johnson has a terrific knack for creating chances and getting shots away. Johnson’s 7.94 shots per 90 minutes is more than double Main’s 3.89, and four or five times larger than Sammon or Bowman’s return. Whether or not Johnson can sustain these sorts of numbers is up for discussion but, for the time being, the forward has made himself one of the first names on the Motherwell teamsheet.

 

A natural goalscorer

 

It’s fair to say that Johnson has had little trouble banging in the goals wherever he’s played when he’s been given the opportunity. In his career to date, the ex-Gateshead striker has scored 131 goals in 230 appearances. It’s worth pointing out that many of these have been in the English National League, but his goalscoring record is impressive nonetheless.

 

 

That form has travelled with Johnson to the Scottish Premiership and he looks to be one of the most dangerous forwards in the league at the moment. Johnson’s expected goals (xG) of 2.32 is the highest in the league, indicating that the striker is fashioning good chances for himself. He hits more shots per game than any other player in the league, but with a startling level of accuracy – only Kyle Lafferty has a higher percentage of his shots on target this season.

 

The sheer volume of shots that Johnson attempts, alongside his impressive 43% accuracy, essentially works out at four shots on target every match. For a club like Motherwell, where goals can sometimes be hard to come by, having a player like Johnson that guarantees to test the opposition goalie can be the difference between finishing in the bottom half and breaking into the top six.

 

 

Despite his goalscoring prowess, it would be unfair to label Johnson as a poacher in the mould of Kris Boyd, for instance. Where Boyd converts many opportunities for himself by creating space in the box and exploiting any gaps in the opposition defence, Johnson prefers to drive into the box and use nimble footwork to fashion an opportunity. The 25-year-old averages 8.54 touches in the opposition box every 90 minutes: more than any other Premiership player.

 

Backing up this argument that Johnson is more than a penalty box striker is the amount of attempts Johnson has had from outside the box, showing that the forward isn’t afraid of an attempt from distance. He’s had six shots from outside the box so far this season – only Tom Rogic, Stevie Mallan, Martin Boyle and Cammy Smith have attempted more.

 

The future looks bright for Johnson and it looks as if Robinson has once again unearthed a gem from the English lower leagues. With Curtis Main yet to rediscover last season’s form, Johnson has stepped up to the plate and shouldered the goalscoring burden for Motherwell. It’s still early days, but if Johnson can keep up his impressive early form then he might just provide the difference to lift Motherwell into the top half of the table come the end of the season.

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