City's Johnson happy with form
© AFP

Manchester City's Adam Johnson faces boyhood heroes Newcastle on Sunday insisting he is playing as well as ever, despite recent criticism from manager Roberto Mancini.

The young England winger scored twice for his country in the victories against Bulgaria and Switzerland in back-to-back UEFA EURO 2012 qualifiers last month after stepping off the bench.

He was then reminded by City manager Mancini that he needed to work even harder now he was an international and that he was among several players at the club who needed a "change of mentality".

Since then, Johnson, a £7m buy from Middlesbrough last January, found himself on League Cup duty among the fringe players, which resulted in a defeat by West Bromwich Albion. And he was back on the bench last weekend playing only the last 13 minutes of the 1-0 victory against Chelsea.

I have been playing well since the start of the season with England then against Liverpool and Blackburn. I just want to stay in the team. I have learned a lot about the game since I signed and I will carry on doing that.
Adam Johnson, Manchester City midfielder

However, Johnson was restored to the side for Thursday's UEFA Europa League group game with Juventus and scored the equaliser in a 1-1 draw.

"I have been playing well since the start of the season with England then against Liverpool and Blackburn," said Johnson. I just want to stay in the team. I have learned a lot about the game since I signed and I will carry on doing that.

"It was good to get a goal at the stadium. It has been a while coming. Hopefully it will be the start of many more. It was brilliant to score against Juventus."

It remains to be seen whether Johnson has done enough to keep his place in the side to face Newcastle. City are under pressure to back up last week's victory over Chelsea with another three points if they are to be considered serious title challengers.

They are likely to be without Pablo Zabaleta, who suffered a hamstring injury during the draw with Juventus. Jerome Boateng emerged from his first City start unscathed, but could be left out as not to put too much pressure on the knee problem he has just recovered from. Zabaleta's absence could mean a start for Joleon Lescott.

Newcastle, who sit in mid-table after two league victories so far, have yet to win in six visits to Eastlands since City relocated to their new home seven years ago, taking just two points from a possible 18.

Their form is proving difficult to predict on their return to the Premier League, with home defeats at the hands of Blackpool and Stoke City balanced by impressive victories on the road at Everton and Chelsea in the Carling Cup.

Few will give them a chance of improving on their dire record at City, but defender Ryan Taylor is happy to be written off. "Going into games as underdogs is maybe a little bit easier. If teams think they're going to roll us over that can be to our advantage," said Taylor.

Taylor could be set for his first Premier League start of the season at right-back in place of James Perch, who has come in for criticism following a difficult transition to life in the top flight following his £1m summer arrival from Nottingham Forest.

Alternatively, manager Chris Hughton could switch Argentina defender Fabricio Coloccini from central defence to full-back and give a first league start for the club to Sol Campbell, the veteran former England international who has recovered from a thigh problem.

Andy Carroll, who is expected to earn a first senior England call on Monday when Fabio Capello names his squad for the EURO 2012 qualifier against Montenegro, has revealed he would welcome some support up front after playing as a lone forward.

His appeal is likely to prove fruitless, with Hughton ready to stick with a 4-5-1 formation. The manager added: "The Premier League seems to be throwing up a lot of shocks this season, and that's why we go to City with belief."