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Soccer-Sunderland hat-trick has Johnson eyeing World Cup berth

Reuters

Jan 13 (Reuters) - Sunderland winger Adam Johnson, who scored a hat-trick in his side's 4-1 English Premier League win at Fulham on Saturday, is optimistic his improving form can earn him a place in England's World Cup squad.

Johnson has not played for England since starting the 2-1 friendly win over Italy in Switzerland in August 2012 despite a dearth of left-sided attacking players available to manager Roy Hodgson.

With Arsenal winger Theo Walcott ruled out of the tournament in Brazil after suffering a serious knee injury in the FA Cup win over Tottenham Hotspur, Johnson's trio of goals in the relegation clash was a timely reminder of his talents.

"In the last few weeks and months I felt like the door was almost closed on me but now I think if I keep playing like this you never know, I might make a late shout for the plane," the 26-year-old was quoted as saying by British media on Monday.

"Theo is a good friend of mine. I have come through the under-19s and under-21s with him. You never want to see that (injury), I was gutted for him, but if you can gain off someone else's misfortune, you have got to try and take it.

"But I won't be the only one who is thinking about that. There are probably four or five good wingers who won't make the plane."

Three goals in a high pressure clash will certainly move him up the queue if nothing else, though.

An undoubtedly talented player, he was restricted to mainly substitute appearances during his two years with Manchester City before joining Sunderland in August 2012.

Fleeting glimpses of the form that he showed as a talented youngster at Middlesbrough were on view but consistency was lacking as he struggled under the chopping and changing of manager on Wearside.

"Every player will tell you there are times when things just don't go for you," said Johnson, who has 12 England caps.

"You are still trying the same things I was trying (against Fulham) but they just don't come off for you. You take one extra touch. But just because players lose form, you don't turn into a bad player overnight.

"It's just one of those things and hopefully now it's a new year, new start. I just said to myself: 'Let's get back to my old ways.' Self-consciously I said: 'This is a new year, everything else has gone.'"

A sweeping free-kick opened the scoring at Craven Cottage before a right-foot shot in the second half made the game safe, with a late penalty capping a brilliant day for the visitors.

The victory moved Sunderland off the bottom of the table for the first time since November, although they remain in the relegation zone in 19th place with 17 points.

"It was one of those days where you look back and think everything went for you," said Johnson. "I think everyone was writing us off but now there are going to be a few teams looking over their shoulders."

When Gus Poyet took over as Sunderland manager in October he knew getting the best from Johnson was key to them preserving their English Premier League status.

The former Chelsea and Spurs midfielder admitted it hadn't been easy but only one defeat in six league matches showed it was proving fruitful.

"Johno has characteristics that mean he needs to be playing for a team that keeps the ball, passes it and gives him the ball at the right time," former Brighton and Hove Albion boss Poyet said.

"We were trying but it wasn't easy. We put him on the right in the beginning but we were not passing the ball well. Then we put him on the left to try to deliver and we were passing it better.

"In the last two or three weeks it was working better, the team was more solid and that gave Johno the freedom to go and perform." (Writing by Patrick Johnston; editing by Amlan Chakraborty)

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