Posted: 12.11.21 at 14:49 by Freddie Cardy
Success in the FA Cup seems to follow former Hitchin Town goalkeeper Michael Johnson around.
The former Canaries shotstopper has been a key part of St Albans stirring cup run this season, that saw Ian Allinson’s side reach the second round of the competition, after beating League Two leaders Forest Green Rovers last weekend.
Speaking to Hitchin Nub News after a behind-closed doors friendly between Hitchin and a young St Albans side at Top Field on Thursday, the goalkeeper enjoyed catching up with some old faces.
Such is his love of the game, it was instructive that Johnson ran the line - after also conducting an impromptu training session with eager young keepers.
“It’s always great to come back”, said the 28 year-old-Johnson. “I’ve got nothing but good memories here, really and truly it’s where my football career started and I emerged as a confident young goalkeeper”.
It is also important to note that Johnson's non-league upbringing under the stewardship of manager Mark Burke at Top Field has also led to flourishing careers for Kane Smith and Will Wright, as they continue to ply their trade at the highest level of non-league football.
After a quick catch-up with Canaries skipper Dan Webb, while sharing a joke about away trip card games on the Hitchin coach, Johnson reflected on the Saints’ 3-2 win over Forest Green in front of a packed Clarence Park.
“I was really confident going into the game”, said St Albans’ keeper, adding that “the more and more the game went on, the more and more I started to think that it was going to be our day.”
With talismanic striker Shaun Jeffers’ 78th minute strike making for a nervy but dramatic finish for the St Albans faithful, Johnson made a series of crucial saves to seal the triumph.
Johnson also cited the club’s impressive unbeaten run in the National League South, especially in front of the home fans, as an important factor in ensuring that the players had no fear of the opposition or the occasion. coming into the game.
Johnson recalls cup triumph
As a young commentator who covered Hitchin’s historic FA Cup run in 2018-19 that saw the Canaries make the first round proper, before being knocked out by a strong Solihull Moors side at Top Field, this correspondent knew that Johnson, who saved multiple penalties in that campaign, would be relishing this season's success even more.
“I expressed to the boys how big of an occasion the first round is, and I had my own motivation to go one better,” he explained.
The motivation clearly paid off, with every Hitchin fan bursting with pride watching the game live on the BBC, knowing that nobody was more deserving of this success more than MJ, a fan favourite in his time at the club.
It was only right that we touched on some of the post-match celebrations, which actually took a surprising turn: “One of the bars in St. Albans wouldn’t let us in because two players didn’t have ID, so we had to cut short our night,” but it was the pitch invasion immediately after full-time that really hit home for Johnson.
“It really knocked me back,” said the normally calm and collected Johnson, with the highly-rated keeper still coming to terms with the extent of what he and his side have achieved.
So much so, the club is already in the process of planning a large celebration, irrespective of their result in the next round, in what has been a momentous cup run for a side only one level above Hitchin in non-league circles.
The Michael Johnson vs Kane Smith derby
With all eyes on Monday night’s FA Cup draw for St Albans and their supporters, an away trip to Meadow Park sets up an intriguing Hertfordshire derby.
However, for Michael, it takes on a whole new significance.
The National League South second placed side will face Boreham Wood from the National League above, a club that has been home to former Canary, and friend of MJ, Kane Smith, for more than four years.
“We’re all on a group chat together, [with former Hitchin players], and after the first few draws we both knew that it was going to happen.”
“We know what we’re expecting of Kane, and we’re going to go there with 100 per cent confidence that we’re going to get a result”.
The two former teammates have also promised a post-match hug and chat with each other regardless of the result, with their friendship remaining strong.
Johnson backs Burke's Boys
A statement of strong support for Hitchin manager Mark Burke, who oversaw a 3-1 win for the Canaries against the Saints on the night with goals from Callum Stead, Stephen Gleeson and Lawrie Marsh, was Johnson’s final message.
The victory came hot on the heels of a commanding 4-1 victory over Leiston on Monday, with many Canary fans hoping a corner has been turned
“It’s obviously a tough period at the moment, but there've been many of them, even when I was here, and you have to stick by the manager," said Johnson.
"But there’s no panic from me, and there shouldn’t be any from the fans.”
Full of optimism, helping out the young Saints goalkeepers and relishing the next round and a promotion-chasing league campaign, Johnson’s career is in an excellent place.
As for Hitchin fans, choosing who to support in the next round in the Johnson vs Kane derby could be very difficult.
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