Derby County`s skipper Michael Johnson is set to return to first-team action tonight aiming to help the Rams to keep their lead at the top of the Championship.
The Pride Park side threatened to beat a 95-year-old club record, when they chalked up five consecutive clean sheets but they have conceded four goals in the past two games against Hull City in the league and the FA Cup tie against Plymouth Argyle.
Billy Davies had stuck with the centre-back pairing of Darren Moore and Dean Leacock, and both had been in a rich vein of form, leaving Johnson on the outer. But Moore serves a one-match ban following his sending off at Plymouth and misses the Championship clash against Stoke City at Pride Park Stadium (7.45pm).
Johnson, whose last League start was in the victory at Preston North End on New Year’s Day, is ready to step in if selected. There have been reports of disharmony in the Rams player group but Johnson said that his team mate Moore was the first to wish him luck.
‘I may have a chance of starting tonight but typical of the way we are as a squad
– Despite the rumours – Mooro has been the first to wish me all the best,’ said Johnson.
‘We want to get back to keeping clean sheets. If you keep one, you have a great chance of winning.”
Johnson believes the defence has been playing well and you don`t change a side that`s playing well.
He said: “Take out the Hull and Plymouth games and we have been absolutely magnificent defensively and that’s why I have struggled to get back in the team.
“I have no qualms about that. I’m one of the old school – if you play well, you keep the shirt.
“Now I have a chance to help us keep a clean sheet and give the manager a selection problem for Saturday’s blockbuster game at Sunderland.”
But first the Rams need to bounce back tonight and Johnson said: ‘When we have lost this season we have tended to come back strongly. We have to bounce back and show people it was only a blip.”