Middlesbrough appear overstocked with left wingers - following in Stewart Downing's tracks is Adam Johnson.
2009 UEFA European Under-21 Championship Qualifier
7.45pm, Tuesday 5 February 2008
St.Mary's Stadium, Southampton FC
Live on Sky Sports
Being an understudy at your club to an England international can be a frustrating business, but Adam Johnson is emerging from Stewart Downing's shadow as a talent in his own right.
Left wingers are a rare breed these days and Middlesbrough, with Downing and Johnson, appear a little over-staffed in that department compared with other clubs.
While Downing has established himself in the Premier League, winning 16 England caps along the way, Johnson is beginning to tread a similar path, although he had to take a step back before he could press forward.
In search of first team football, Johnson, who at 20 is three years younger than Downing, signed on loan for Championship outfit Watford at the start of the season - a move which reaped rich dividends for both player and club. Johnson thrived under Adrian Boothroyd, scoring five goals in 11 games, while Watford zoomed to the top of the division.
"Joining Watford on loan was one of the best decisions I have ever made," said Johnson. "I played a lot of games and scored a few goals – it was probably the best spell of my career.
"I really enjoyed it at Watford. They were a good team in the Championship who attacked teams."
Johnson returned to the Riverside in November - coincidentally Watford's form has since dipped - but the winger, whose hero is Ryan Giggs, is relishing life in the Premier League.
"It was great to be called back to Middlesbrough," he added. "It was nice to feel wanted.
"It’s fantastic (being in the Premier League). You have to pinch yourself at times when you are playing against the top sides. At the same time you have to show you can mix it with the best."
Johnson proved he could mix it on the international stage, scoring his first U21 goal in November to salvage a point in Portugal. Loitering at the back post in the second half, he lashed in a volley before being mobbed by his team-mates.
"It was brilliant," he recalled. "One of the best moments of my career. Scoring my first England goal was a great feeling."
That point preserved England's place at the top of Group 3 and a win tonight against the Republic of Ireland would mean the Three Lions would need just a point from their final game, at home to Portugal in September, to finish top of the pile and progress to the Euro 2009 play-offs.
"It would be a disaster if we didn’t get to the play-offs," insisted Johnson. "It’s in our hands. A win tonight would set us up to win the group."