But he has insisted that despite being the underdogs, the match, which is his 500th competitive outing as a manager, should not be viewed as “a free hit” by his players - not when there is the lucrative prize of Europa Conference League group football at stake.
“We worked so hard to get [into the European qualifiers] last year. To go from eighth to fifth and nearly fourth - not a million miles off third - we worked so hard to do that, and I think this is the reward for the lads, this particular game,” said the man who is hoping to steer a Scottish side to victory over English rivals in a UEFA competition for the first time since 2006.
“But I don’t think you get a free hit with a club this size. The expectation is there, and I have said before, that’s the privilege of managing a big club. I’ve been really lucky, I have managed Sunderland, a massive club, Bristol City, a big, big club, and now Hibs. But we’re on the European stage now and we need to compete and compete well.”
That is despite the massive disparity in finances and the fact that the West Midlands side are among the favourites to go on and lift the trophy.
“Somebody told me it’s 17 years since a Scottish team beat an English team in European competition so we’re not going to take all that pressure on ourselves, we’re just going to try to give the best possible account of ourselves.
“The reality is the two budgets are probably £180 million apart! So, there’s a gap that we’re going to have to bridge, and we’ll do that by effort, support from the stands, individual brilliance on the day, and by believing in ourselves, to the point where that [the budget] is the least important factor, because it’s 11 men against 11 men.
“We’re here on merit, we have earned this opportunity and what we don’t want to do is waste it.”
Booking their spot in the play-offs with a highly-notable aggregate win over FC Luzern in the previous round, Hibs will now face Unai Emery’s EPL side, which will include their captain and former Hibs hero John McGinn, giving the match even more spice.
Dylan Vente is fit to play, while Jake Doyle-Hayes has an outside chance, according to Johnson, but they will be without Dylan Levitt, who was injured in Switzerland but could be back after the international break.
“I’ve picked an athletic team, in terms of what we’ve got, and a physical team, and that’s one of the most important factors in this. We’ve got to be able to cope with that added athleticism we wouldn’t normally go against week-in, week-out.
“Those boys have got to cross the line and believe in themselves, and in each other. Every bit of influence that can aid them with that, and I’m talking about the fanbase, gives us a big hand. It’s nice that this is my 500th game as a manager. It’s a really nice tie to have.”