Ben Johnson knows better than to underestimate the test Silkeborg IF will pose against West Ham United on Thursday.
The Hammers host the Danish side at London Stadium in matchday five of the UEFA Europa Conference League group stages, knowing any share of the points will be enough to secure top spot in Group B.
Finishing top will guarantee the Irons a place in the Round of 16, with no need to play in an additional knock-out round play-off in February, something Johnson and his teammates are eager to avoid in an already hectic 2022/23 season.
The versatile defender is ready for Thursday’s fixture and, sitting down with members of the gathered media ahead of the game, spoke about how last season’s UEFA Europa League campaign has spurred the side on for another run in Europe.
Johnson also talked about his own role in the team, his defensive colleagues, and where he would like to improve his own game…
Silkeborg are a fantastic side.
We played them at their place and they gave us a very good game. We know it’s going to be an extremely tough game. We’re not going out there to be half-hearted. We’re going out win.
They’ve got a good style of play and some fantastic players. It’s going to be a tough test and hopefully we’re going to come through as winners. They’ve beaten FCSB 5-0 in both of their games and we’ve watched those back. Those things don’t happen regularly so we know we’re going to have to be on our toes and start sharply.
This game is not a free hit. Every game is important and we want to win and get the three points. There’s a huge incentive to win, because we qualify as top of the group and then we don’t have those two extra games in the new year. That would give us a bit of a break from a very heavy schedule.
Last season, I felt we had a good chance of winning the UEFA Europa League.
Unfortunately, we didn’t do that, but we’re in every competition to try and win it. We’re not just here to take part. We want to compete with top European clubs. It gives the whole Club a boost when we play these European games.
When you think about our campaign last year, it was a bit bittersweet. We were so close and we wanted to win that trophy so desperately, but it’s given us experience to take back into our league campaign.
This year, we’re better equipped.
We’ve got a squad that’s more used to playing Thursday-Sunday. We’re getting used to it and we’re prepared, and we know we’re going to have a lot of games. All the lads are fine with that.
We’re playing more games, which helps you get into a rhythm. The best way to get momentum is to play and win matches, and our home form in the last month is unbeaten. We want to keep that momentum going.
We lost some great lads at the end of last year but we’ve replaced them, fantastically, with some great lads from different nations.
One who comes to mind is Thilo Kehrer, who has come from PSG with a big stature and the players that we’ve got this year are very good. They are internationals, which enhances training, and pushes the direction of where we want to go. Hopefully we can continue to get better as the season goes on.
I’ve found it enjoyable playing in different positions.
It has improved the information I take on in games, and that will hopefully come in useful in future years. I might need to play centre-back, for example, so to play that role is good for my personal improvement. I’ve played it in a four, or in a three, and I’ve also played wing-back. It’s helped me and given me a different perspective on the main full-back position I play. Wherever the manager plays me, I want to give 100 per cent for the team.
In Thilo Kehrer and Vladimir Coufal, you’ve got two international players I’m competing with.
That shows the calibre of player we have at this Club, in that position. Thilo is versatile and Vlad has been fantastic for us ever since he signed. I wouldn’t say the competition is daunting though.
We have a healthy relationship, and we all want the team to do well. It helps everyone going forward.
I personally want to work on all areas of my game.
I’d like to score more goals and create more goals, and get forward more. But I also know I’m in the team to defend and I’d like to improve that area too. There are things that I can get better on that will help me throughout the rest of my career.
I’ve been at the Club for a while.
I’ve come through the Academy and now I’m fortunate enough to play in the first team. Even in the past three years or so, I’ve seen a few players come and go and I’m becoming more of a senior player. I think I need to act like one and help the other players.
Nayef Aguerd is a great character.
He is a fantastic guy who has got on with everyone from his very first guy. He likes to laugh a lot but he’s also extremely focused, and he was so unfortunate with his injury. His transition back to training has been a credit to him. He’s looked sharp and hopefully everyone can see more of him, and why the Club signed him.
My French is terrible and, it’s funny, most of us can’t understand the French-speaking lads but we can hear them laughing together, having fun, and we can see they’re enjoying themselves. That’s the main thing – that no one is left out. We all get along and it’s a good sign that everyone is laughing and joking together.