It would have been hard to find anyone in the ground just prior to Greg Mills striking the ball towards Halifax Town’s goal last Saturday to think anything other than a goal.
The Nuneaton midfielder, recently signed from Tamworth FC, found himself in acres of space inside the box with options galore on where to place the ball.
Sam Johnson was scrambling across his line and the equaliser looked certain. Mills directed his right footed effort into the top corner, only to see it miraculously tipped away by Johnson’s right hand. The goalkeeper required every inch of his 6ft 7 frame to deny Nuneaton an equaliser in the 36th minute.
Johnson himself has admitted he was amazed he managed to pull the save off, and ranks it as one his best in his career to date.
“At the time, I felt it was a goal. I was hurrying across my line and leapt just hoping for the best. Luckily, I’ve felt the ball clip my right fingers and watch it go behind for a corner. It was good feeling and definitely one of my top saves.”
“My best I’d have to say was for Vale in the Youth Cup a couple of years ago, I was in a similar scenario, though this one was a glancing header towards the bottom corner” Johnson explained.
“I flung myself across the line and managed to claw the ball away with my back arched, but was still very pleased with the one I made on Saturday.”
Since Johnson’s reintroduction to the side this season after a successful first loan spell last year with the club, the goals conceded have decreased dramatically in recent weeks.
Saturday’s 2-0 victory over Nuneaton was the club’s fifth win in the last six games, and from a defensive mind-set, a third consecutive clean-sheet for the first time this season.
“If you want to get promotion you have to build from the back starting with clean sheets. Recently it’s given us a great foundation for the team to build on – getting forward and creating a lot of chances” said Johnson.
The dark clouds that circled above the Shaymen heading into the calendar year have quickly faded away with the team’s style of play transformed in recent performances.
The Port-Vale loanee has been a major part of the defensive transformation as well as the return of centre-half Matty Brown.
The defender has been desperate to get his boots back on after a lengthy period on the side-lines, and his patience and hard-work appear to have paid off with two starts and two clean sheets to show for it.
“Matty is what I like to see in a defender,” said Johnson, “He’s big, strong, has good positional sense and is a talker which is what you need. We have lots of leaders and he’s certainly one of them. He was excellent for us last season when I played alongside him and it’s great to have him back and playing so well.”
The Shaymen face a long trip down south to Worcester City on Saturday, a side on the fringes of relegation.
The word free-fall epitomizes Worcester in recent times, unable to pick up three points since November in a 2-1 fixture against Telford.
Once the stats all lead towards a comfortable afternoon for Billy Heath’s side – however fixtures against lower-ranked sides in recent weeks’ have proven to be tough affairs. Stalybridge on New Year’s Day an unfortunate reminder of what can happen when a team doesn’t deliver on expectations.
“Sometimes when u play the lower teams you’re up against opponents who are scrapping for their lives so it becomes a cagier affair. Look at the Stalybridge and Altrincham games as an example not to expect an easy game and we’re certainly not expecting that on Saturday” admitted Johnson.
“Nothing wrong with grinding out results every now and then especially against teams who need the points as much as ourselves, we’re both fighting for different causes.”
The shot-stopper believes if the side continue to keep it tight at the back, the abundance in quality we have upfront should be enough to come away with all three points.
The media team will keep you up-to-date with all the action from The Victoria Ground with live audio commentary on Shaymen Player HD, as well as regular updates via the Shaymen wall and social media (@FCHTOnline).