'Shy guy' Johnson can shout to the top

Birmingham look for their 10th clean sheet today and their confident centre-half is eyeing an England call-up

Roger Johnson arrived at Birmingham City without a Premier League appearance, let alone an international cap. He was soon barking instructions in practice games and voicing opinions in the dressing-room. His new team-mates nicknamed him "Shyness".

"I'm a confident person," Johnson says. "I've always been a shouter at every club I've been at. There are times when I shouldn't say anything, but that's how I am. There should be 11 leaders out there. You don't have to take the armband to be a captain. Everybody can speak and shout, help each other out. It's not everyone's game but it's a big part of mine."

If the performances had failed to match up to the rhetoric, both the newcomer and the manager who paid Cardiff £5m for him, Alex McLeish, could have looked foolish. At St Andrew's today, in a derby against a Wolves team who pipped them for last season's Championship title, Birmingham will be striving for their 10th Premier League clean sheet.

Widely tipped for relegation, they stand in the top half of the table and are in the last 16 of the FA Cup after a 15-match unbeaten run which ended at Chelsea 10 days ago. And if injury or lost form create a vacancy in England's centre-back department, then Johnson, with Gary Cahill and Michael Dawson, could be in with a shout in more ways than one.

"It's nice even that people are talking about it," the 26-year-old says. "[Fabio Capello] picks in-form players and I feel as if I've been doing OK. A couple of injuries and you never know. If it comes around it would be brilliant, but I think it might be a bit late for me this time."

As a lifelong Chelsea fan, Johnson makes no secret of having drawn on John Terry's defensive qualities for inspiration. He says of Terry: "It's none of my business what he does outside football. I like him as a player."

Since completing his rise from the fourth tier, where he made his debut for Wycombe Wanderers a week after turning 17, Johnson has come under the influence of another centre-half who captained his country. McLeish backed his judgement by pairing him with another player without Premier League experience, Scott Dann from Coventry City, and while Joe Hart has captured the headlines, his high-rise guardians have proved a revelation.

"It was brave of the gaffer to put us in together at this level. He'd have been shot down if we'd shipped three or four goals every week. At Cardiff we had Scottish lads who had played under him and they said positive things about him. He's like me, says what he thinks. He spent good money on me so he expected me to do a job. He has tweaked things in my game but playing at this level is the quickest way to learn. Every game is massive."

Johnson admits that Birmingham's progress has surprised even insiders. "I don't think anyone expected results to be so good. The gaffer did well with his signings last summer. He brought in some decent players and we've gelled. You can see how tight we are."

An incident in the 0-0 draw with Manchester City illustrated Birmingham's spirit. Johnson was badly winded when the ball hit him in the stomach and tried to clamber to his feet to catch his breath. Stephen Carr, the captain, remembered Johnson had ended up in a hospital high-intensity unit after a vicious blow to the windpipe by Crystal Palace's Claude Davis last April and thought his interests would be better served by pushing him back down. The wounded party can now call the episode "comical".

Birmingham's collective resilience will come under scrutiny against struggling Wolves. "The draw against Spurs showed we could bounce back after we lost our unbeaten record at Chelsea. Now we want to get back to winning ways. A couple more wins will take us to the 40-point mark and we should know that we're safe whatever happens. We've been in the top half a while and we're determined to finish there."

Birmingham versus Wolves, 1.30pm today, Sky Sports 1

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?