“Second goal for Spurs…scored in second-half stoppage time…from number 22…Brennan Johnson!” breathless stadium announcer Pete Abbott screamed at the top of his lungs down the microphone at 4:58pm on Saturday.
Tottenham Hotspur’s Welsh winger had just given the hosts a late 2-1 lead against Brighton & Hove Albion, racing onto the end of a low cross from Son Heung-min and thundering the ball into the roof of the net from close range in the 96th minute.
For the third time already this season, Ange Postecoglou’s side had snatched a win at the very last on home soil. It was timely vindication for the Greek-Australian and his band of young stars, who had been criticised intensely over the last week for conceding too many late goals.
This goal in particular was a further ‘I told you so’ argument for Postecoglou and Johnson as a pair. The 22-year-old has been thrust into a bright spotlight in his debut Spurs season, with injuries and absences elsewhere across the frontline meaning he’s had to feature a lot more prominently than was likely planned upon his arrival in September.
Johnson impressed in his early Tottenham appearances, making a difference off the bench against Sheffield United and Crystal Palace, while he also played well in starts from the left when taking on fierce rivals Arsenal and Chelsea.
These brief cameos and the odd appearance from the off were followed by a run of 12 successive starts in all competitions. Even if Johnson was in the form of his life, this wouldn’t have been in the script.
For the most part, Johnson was switched back over to the right and tasked with stretching play. With his pace and general style, he is the only player in Tottenham’s squad who is a natural fit with Postecoglou’s usual system featuring touchline wingers. He made a habit of popping up with low crosses aimed towards the near post, the in-form Richarlison usually the beneficiary.
Johnson wasn’t providing an awful lot else though, and Spurs’ predictability in attack – particularly while Son was away at the Asian Cup – annoyed supporters.
But Johnson and his £47.5m price tag are just the latest victims of a transfer policy enforced upon clubs like Tottenham. They still can’t go and buy ready-made superstars and have to take more risks in the market. If Johnson had stayed at Nottingham Forest and had a great season, he’d probably be worth even more and Spurs would be muscled out of any race for his signature – they have to take the chance on these players having that kind of breakout campaign with them instead.
Postecoglou was a huge fan of Johnson’s when he was at Forest and was keen on bringing him just before the summer transfer deadline. His squad still lacked a winger capable of driving on the outside and getting chalk on their boots, one who could also be moulded into not just providing those low crosses but converting them at the last line as well.
As such, Johnson is a non-priority member of Tottenham’s attack but with the expectation to play like one. It’s a hard enough ask of a young and raw player as is, but he’s starting to thrive with Spurs’ squad returning from injuries and international duty.
With Tottenham nearing full-strength again, Postecoglou at last has the opportunity to rest his stars when needed, to take them out of the firing line for protection or just when they’re a little subpar. In theory, that should be of benefit to someone like Johnson, an end to the days of 12 straight starts and to carry more of the scoring load.
Johnson came off the bench against Brentford and helped to change the game, scoring Tottenham’s second in an eventual 3-2 comeback victory. He was also used as a substitute against Brighton, putting in a frustrating performance right until he made one final dash to the byline and smashed home the winner – but that’s exactly why he’s in Postecoglou’s squad, exactly why Postecoglou needs him.
Tottenham are in the market for another wide forward in the summer, making Johnson’s route to starts much trickier, but this is just how modern-day squad-building works. You need different profiles for different needs.
Johnson’s latest strike took him to seven goal contributions in 21 Premier League matches for Tottenham, averaging one every 186 minutes – so roughly once every other game. It’s hardly a disastrous total, more-so one likely to improve on Spurs’ current trajectory with a fit squad again. The kid’s alright.