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Adam Johnson: A Success Or Failure?

It's over two years since Sunderland announced the heralded signing of long-time target Adam Johnson from Manchester City. Now entering the second half of a four-year contract with the club, can Johnson's stay at the Stadium of Light be looked upon as a success?

Johnson celebrates his derby day goal in April 2013
Johnson celebrates his derby day goal in April 2013
Stu Forster

Adam Johnson agreed to join Sunderland on 24th August 2012 amid much fanfare and instantly found himself with the burden of lofty expectations upon his shoulders.

Then-manager Martin O'Neill struggled all summer to draft-in the type of star names he felt were urgently required to beef up his squad in preparation for the new campaign, but eventually made two major breakthroughs towards the end of the transfer window in the shape of winger Johnson and Wolves target-man Steven Fletcher.

Despite the excitement surrounding his decision to sign up, it proved a false dawn initially and not all of it was his fault - he was jettisoned into a struggling team that were no better than the previous incarnation. Fletcher and Johnson were viewed as solid purchases who would both increase the quality at Martin O'Neill's disposal, but they couldn't do it all on their own and there were many areas of the first-team squad that got severely neglected.

For large swathes of the season, Johnson received the ball in a deep-lying position and he'd immediately be surrounded by two opponents. Supporting players appeared slow to offer Johnson an outlet and so it was left to the former 'Boro attacker to beat his two markers in order to effect any kind of end product. He was expected to razzle and dazzle his way beyond defenders to a degree that is beyond most footballers and therefore often cut an isolated figure out on the touchline.

There were a smattering of high points; his stunning long-range strike at St. James' Park shortly after Paolo Di Canio took over the reins from O'Neill stands out most of all in one of the most vital derby victories in living memory, along with Johnson's Boxing Day winning goal against former employers Manchester City. However, they were few and far between as he failed to live up to the hype.

At one stage towards the end of the 2012-13 season, Johnson responded to criticism over his performances by pointing out that his stats were, in his eyes, up to scratch. A quick glance at his record from that league campaign shows that he managed to score five goals, while directly setting up a further six. His total assists placed him in the Premier League top 20, which isn't too bad comparatively speaking. However, he was outside of the top 50 on goals scored, 33rd on the list for key passes per game and below 80 per cent in terms of passing completion. In short, there was some truth in what he said, but the overall statistical feedback showed his contribution to have been pretty much middle of the road.

The opening few months of his second term at the club served up much of the same, with frustrating inconsistencies being the norm. Matters weren't helped by the turbulent nature of Paolo Di Canio's managerial stint, which turned sour within six months of his arrival.

That all changed at the turn of the year under new boss Gus Poyet, who'd dropped Johnson in December only to recall him early the following month. Suddenly, he clicked into gear on his return with spectacular results when inspiring the Black Cats to victory over Carlisle United in the FA Cup third round. A week later, the wide-man was bang in form when hitting a sublime hat-trick away to Fulham in a 4-1 win that took Sunderland off the foot of the table.

Johnson began getting possession of the ball higher up the pitch, while showcasing an ability to cut inside and rifle shots in. It appeared that the real Adam Johnson had finally turned up; the reasons for fighting so hard to secure a deal bringing him to Wearside were now in stark evidence. Not content with his man-of-the-match display at Craven Cottage, the resurgent star scored the winner at home to Stoke City prior to claiming the Barclays Player of the Month award for January.

Into February and again it was Johnson proving the catalyst for another memorable victory, this time in a massively one-sided 3-0 derby stroll at St. James' Park. He tormented the home defence all afternoon, scoring once and setting away the decisive move which led to a 19th-minute penalty converted by Borini.

A national team friendly match loomed on the horizon, as Johnson put himself in the frame to resume an England career that'd gone off the boil. Unfortunately, he was strangely overlooked by Roy Hodgson, effectively ending any hopes he harboured of making his way to Brazil as part of the World Cup selection.

Alas, the old inconsistencies resurfaced after that surprise omission from the clash with Denmark. Still, he eventually helped Sunderland to stay up with a game to spare, while improving his stats for the season overall. He made seven less league starts than in the previous year, but managed to grab three more league goals and manufacture the same amount of assists. Meanwhile, his key passes per game ratio improved, too.

It all promised better things for this season and Johnson has started steadily, without firing on all cylinders. He opened his goalscoring account at home to Spurs in a 2-2 draw, but the 27-year-old continues the struggle to rediscover that creative spark which was so encouraging to witness earlier this year.

We know Johnson can produce the goods; everyone has seen it. But, it happens far too seldom to suggest that he's been an outstanding success.

Has his influence changed the course of matches on numerous occasions? Yes. Is he worth the £10m fee shelled out for his services? Probably. Should he deliver much more on a consistent basis? Definitely.

Adam Johnson is the definition of an enigma in every way; a mystery, an unknown quantity, hard to understand. He has all of the talent in the world, but doesn't always put it into practice. When he does get everything right, though, he's a potent weapon within a team that desperately needs his injection of pace, skill and guile.

Perhaps there's never been a more divisive figure to have donned the famous red-and-white stripes. Some love him, some are highly sceptical of him, while a whole host of others are stuck firmly on the fence.

For what it's worth, I believe he should be a mainstay of the starting line-up because of the quality he possesses and that he has indeed been a reasonable - but certainly not roaring - success at the club during his two-year stay. However, his team-mates would be right to demand even more from him and he absolutely must find a higher level of consistency in his displays in order to silence the doubters.

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