Zak Johnson: SAFC U21 defender remains positive despite season-ending defeat against West Bromwich Albion

SAFC Under-21s ended their 2022-23 Premier League 2 Division 2 season with a narrow defeat on the road to West Bromwich Albion.

Centre-half Zak Johnson was left disappointed the young Lads were unable to finish on a win but believes there are plenty of positives to take away and build on for next season. 

“I’m gutted for the Lads because we wanted to end the season on a high, since Murts [Graeme Murty] has come in there has been a massive change in the boys’ belief, how we play, and the trust we have for each other. 

“We try to interpret that into the game as much as possible but fair play to West Brom, they were a decent side on the night, and I think a few individual errors from the team including myself ended up costing us. 

“I think the belief we have now going into next season is really important for us,” Johnson said. 

Johnson, himself still 17, provided an honest but constructive assessment of the Lads’ final fixture of their season, noting errors cost them but applauding the Under-18 players who featured for their contribution.

“I think playing out from the back there were a lot of times during the game we were comfortable in possession and not being pressed too heavily, but we made errors and sloppy passes which they capitalised on. 

“We were almost kicking ourselves at times in our build-up play and in the final third may be due to rushing a few things due to the pitch being a little bit bobbly. You can make excuses, but I think overall it comes down to us. 

“Credit to the younger lads that came on and got thrown into a scrappy game with West Brom trying to see the match out while we were trying to push for an equaliser,” Johnson added.

Johnson praised U21 Lead Coach Graeme Murty’s impact since arriving on Wearside and reflected on his own personal performances throughout a challenging campaign. 

The defender scored the winning goal against rivals Newcastle United and has been an ever-present in the U21 set-up, with his displays earning him first-team opportunities. 

“I think I had a rough start to the season if I’m honest, however, I gained a lot of belief and confidence since Murts joined the club and I have since shown what I can do. 

“Overall, I’m happy with how my season has gone and receiving captaincy on a couple of occasions throughout the campaign is pleasing. 

“I have trained with the first team quite a lot this season and I have pushed to get into the matchday squad, so looking back I think I have had a good season,” Johnson explained.