DAVID SMITH - Monday, May 30, 2011
Jemal Johnson ended his season in the best possible manner, netting his first goal for Lokomotiv Sofia to help the team secure fourth place and a spot in next season's Europa League.
Heading into the final weekend of the season, the Railwaymen held the narrowest of margins in the three-team race for Bulgaria's final Europa League spot. They were tied with Lokomotiv Plovdiv on points but held a head-to-head advantage, with both teams having a one-point lead over Cherno More Varna.
As in recent games, Johnson began the game on the bench, with head coach Dian Petkov saving the attacker for a second-half push should the team need offensive firepower.
The contest between these two city rivals was an overall defensive battle, with the home crowd becoming increasingly frustrated with the poor play as the game progressed.
At halftime, Lokomotiv's Europa League rivals Cherno More Varna had managed to take a first half lead in their game, putting the onus on Petkov's squad to push forward for the win in the second half in order to not lose their European spot.
The team did proceed to go on the offensive after the break, creating several chances in the early going.
Johnson took the field just after the hour mark on the right side of the midfield, and didn't need long before leaving his mark both on the game and on his team's season.
In the 65th minute, the American found himself in a good shooting position at distance, and took a crack at goal, which first took a deflection off of a Slavia defender before flying into the net for the winner.
The victory closes out Lokomotiv's season, leaving them in fourth place ahead of Lokomotiv Plovdiv based on Sofia's better head-to-head record as the two teams finished even on total points.
With third-place CSKA Sofia having already qualified for the Europa League by winning the Bulgarian Cup, Lokomotiv take their place in the second round of qualifying, giving Johnson his first taste of European competition.