By Martyn Herman
LONDON, Jan 7 (Reuters) - From getting the cold shoulder at third tier Wolverhampton Wanderers, 30-year-old defender Roger Johnson is set to make his West Ham United debut at Manchester City in the League Cup semi-final on Wednesday.
Johnson, who played in the Premier League for Wolves and Birmingham City, was not even given a squad number at the start of the season and was subsequently loaned to struggling Championship side Sheffield Wednesday.
However, after agreeing a loan deal with injury-hit West Ham on Monday the centre half has the chance to impress against a City side boasting a formidable array of attacking firepower.
As debuts go it could hardly get any more daunting with free-scoring City able to call upon the likes of Edin Dzeko and Alvaro Negredo even if Sergio Aguero is injured.
Yet West Ham's embattled boss Sam Allardyce reckons Johnson, part of the Birmingham side to beat Arsenal in the 2011 League Cup final, could be the man to help the Hammers cause a surprise and also lead them away from the Premier League relegation zone.
"He is very determined and very excited about the opportunity he's got after being frozen out at Wolves and pursuing his career at Sheffield Wednesday recently," Allardyce told a news conference on Tuesday.
"Our central defensive situation has been so difficult recently and it's one of the main reasons why we haven't achieved the results we wanted.
"All of our other efforts in securing a central defender, prior to knowing that Roger was available, were difficult," said Allardyce ahead of Wednesday's first leg.
"The one big thing about Roger is his Premier League experience at Birmingham City, his height in terms of being a central defender which has been one of our weak points recently and his desire to come and show he has still got the capabilities to play at this level.
"He's also not cup-tied so we're going into one of the biggest games of the season with somebody of his experience, height and aerial dominance against, let's face it, one of the biggest sides in the Premier League.
"If you look across the board with Dzeko, Negredo, Yaya Toure, Kompany and Nastasic we have to be aerially very competent on Wednesday and Roger will be a great help in that area."
West Ham are only one place off the foot of the Premier League and a weakened line-up was thrashed 5-0 by second tier Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup third round on Sunday.
Even the most diehard fans give them little chance of toppling City over two legs but Allardyce said they hope to at least get back to Upton Park with the tie still alive.
"We don't have to beat them on Wednesday night, we have to come back with something realistic to beat them at home if we can," he explained.
"We have to stay as focused as we can and we have to nullify what is a great attacking force." (Editing by Tony Jimenez)