09 Jan 2009
- Written by Evening Post, UK
- Hits: 800
Hailed as a saviour by grateful Southampton fans last season, the striker's 20-goal haul helped the Saints to stave off the threat of relegation and retain Championship status by the skin of their teeth. But since joining Bristol City on loan in October, the Trinidad & Tobago international star has found plaudits harder to come by.
Quite simply, many City fans do not get John and, accordingly, have been slow to appreciate his contribution.
Some supporters have, on occasion, accused him of laziness and not being a team player.
Others have questioned his ability as a goal-scorer, suggesting he should be packed off back to St Mary's.
Yet City manager Gary Johnson sees things very differently. So much so, that the Londoner jumped at the chance to extend John's stay until the end of the season.
Mired in a looming financial crisis, Southampton want John off the wage bill and Johnson insists their loss is very much City's gain.
Perhaps it is John's languid movement and laid-back approach which give rise to the impression that he is not pulling out all the stops on the pitch. Undemonstrative and softly spoken, he is not one to seek the limelight.
But Johnson is in no doubt as to John's qualities, while his team- mates insist City's recent upturn in fortunes would not have been possible without the loan signing's influence.
Deployed as the fulcrum of a three-man attack, John's experience and knowhow have helped bring out the best in record signing Nicky Maynard and Northern Ireland international Ivan Sproule, both of whom are experiencing a new lease of life in a progressive 4-3-3 formation.
When asked to explain City's improved form and results, both Maynard and Sproule are quick to praise the part played by John.
Manager Johnson talks in glowing terms of John's ability and willingness to hold the ball up with his back to goal and play the right pass at the right time to a colleague.
"He's a very clever player and you can see that he's been in the Premier League before now," claims Johnson.
"I think Stern's experience has helped us more than anything else. He's very good in the dressing room and he's helped some of the other lads come out of themselves. He's done the rounds and his experience has rubbed off on the others."
Johnson added: "It sometimes looks as though Stern isn't doing a great deal on the pitch. But I can assure our supporters he does a lot of good work which goes unnoticed.
"Although you won't see him rushing about on the pitch and making lung-busting runs down the channels, he's actually quite clever in his play. He works hard in trying to receive the ball and people don't see that.
"Even though we weren't winning games to begin with, we looked more like scoring goals from the moment Stern John joined us.
"He sets himself to receive the ball, which means the two centre-halves have to be right on his back to stop him turning and causing them problems. If they're right on his back, that creates more room for us to pass the ball in behind and get runners into the opposition penalty area.
"Stern may only have scored a couple of goals himself, but he makes chances for others and brings players into the game."
If Johnson's recent change in shape and tactics was designed partly with John in mind, others are also reaping the benefits of a bold 4-3-3 formation.
First introduced at Hillsborough last month, the new approach enabled City to create the better chances in a goalless encounter with Sheffield Wednesday.
Injury and suspension prevented Johnson from fielding the same side at home to Burnley, but when he reverted to 4-3-3 at Watford, the move paid startling dividends.
And the tactics were retained with equal success for the home game against Crystal Palace, the Robins winning in front of their own fans for the first time since October 18.
"It's a system which seems to suit those players currently in the team," said Johnson.