Adam Johnson has already booked his summer holidays.
Ask him where he is going and his answer is short and delivered with a smile on his face: “All over the place – anywhere but Brazil.”
The same query a fortnight ago might not have elicited such a response. With Sunderland heading into the Championship and Johnson heading for the beach rather than World Cup, a year of promise might have turned into something of an annus horribilis for the Black Cats winger.
Thanks to the most unlikely of resurgences, however, Sunderland have something to play for again. Their fate is in their own hands and the destiny of the club is once again in the balance.
It might sound dramatic but what they would have given to be in this position just two weeks ago, when undeserved defeat against Everton kicked off a premature inquest into exactly what was wrong at the Stadium of Light.
Gustavo Poyet talked of something stalking the corridors of the stadium but four points from two title contenders have mothballed the recriminations and given Johnson and his team-mates the opportunity to pull back from the brink.
Inside the dressing room they will tell you that they always believed but the noises on the outside were very different. A seven-point gap with two treacherous tasks ahead looked like a mission impossible, but they have given themselves a fighting chance again.
Johnson senses that is the case. The Stadium of Light will be crackling again on Sunday as supporters sense the chance for the club’s greatest escape.
He says: “Off the back of what we did you can feel that sort of buzz. I think because we were written off we feel like we’ve proved a few people wrong.
There is, however, a problem. Sunderland’s form on their own patch has been poor and when it comes to taking on the basement dwellers they have often fallen way short of the sort of performances that they posted against Chelsea and Manchester City.
Taking on Norwich and Crystal Palace, they couldn’t buy a shot on goal, never mind a strike to their name. There were similar problems when West Ham United and Aston Villa – hardly the heaviest hitters in the division – came to town and Cardiff’s lowly position in the league doesn’t offer much succour.
There is, however, a sizeable distinction this time around.
While Norwich and Palace came with containment on their minds, the Bluebirds need to collect points to keep their own heads above water. For a team that have previously enjoyed taking on teams who want to attack them, that could prove decisive.
“At home is where our problems have been and this is going to be a totally different game. It’s going to be a battle,” said Johnson.
“I don’t think Cardiff can come and just get a point against us like others have done at the Stadium of Light.
“Norwich and Crystal Palace have come for a point and as long as we didn’t score I don’t think they particularly wanted to score either. I don’t think Cardiff can come and play for a point.” Still, there is concern that encroaches on the hopes of Sunderland supporters.
If they dare to dream – as they did for the Capital One Cup final – they might yet be let down by another flat performance from a team that have been maddeningly inconsistent this season.
Johnson admits that the problem lies in the team trying to string two decent displays together. It is not over-confidence or complacency, if anything it is the opposite and an overwhelming fear of failure which has hamstrung the team at crucial points this season.
“We’ve got to try and keep going and to play the game that we have been playing in the last two games,” he said. “Even against Everton, there was nothing in those two teams. You wouldn’t have said there was much separating us and them.
“On paper we have good players just like them but we haven’t done it consistently and it is that consistency that has given us problems. At times we’ve been a top seven team but at other times we’ve been absolutely awful.
“I think we really need to just add that consistency and take that form from our away games into this one and to try and play the same way that we’ve been playing – with confidence and no fear.”
For Johnson, being back in the team is a fillip after a run of games where he was kept on the bench.
He said: “Up until Liverpool and West Ham I’d not spent a lot of time on the bench so I wasn’t too fussed really. I can understand everyone will be in and out.
“This season since the gaffer came in I was getting better and better and since January it was the best football I’ve played in my career.
“Obviously people felt I was playing better at City for a big team but personally I think it was the best spell I’ve had form-wise. I’m feeling good. I’m happy with it.”
Sunderland have issued various appeals to supporters to suspend their anxieties about the club’s overall direction and offer loud and lusty support to a survival effort that has been injected with fresh hope by last week’s results.
It is a fair point: this is a bigger game than any that Sunderland have had this season, and that includes their trip to Wembley in March. Whereas that was about excitement and possibility, this is about the club’s destiny and securing the future of the club as we know it.
In that context, Sunderland’s request is reasonable. Johnson, however, feels such appeals are unnecessary – and just hopes the supporters are given something to shout about on Sunday.
“To be honest they’ve been great because we haven’t given them much to shout about,” he said. “They’ve been willing us to score but we haven’t converted the pressure we have had at home. We’ve not really done it but hopefully it will all fall into place on Sunday and maybe we can give them a relaxing day for once.”