In a recent interview Steve Bruce conducted with the Aston Villa media, he sang Sam Johnstone’s praises and said that ‘if there’s an opportunity that we can get him to play more next season I would love to do it.’ Five wins and five clean sheets in the last six games are very impressive stats, but are they enough to warrant the estimated £3 million required to bring Johnstone to B6 permanently?
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Sam Johnstone during the Sky Bet Championship match between Huddersfield Town and Aston Villa (Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images)

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Had you asked this question a month ago, I’m sure the vast majority would have offered to drive him back to Manchester, such had been his level of performance. It is easy to forget, but whenever Johnstone made a save against Barnsley in the 3-1 home defeat he was ironically jeered. It is, therefore, only right to congratulate Johnstone on how far he has come in such a short space of time.
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It is clear that he works hard behind the scenes and that came to fruition in a man of the match performance away at Wigan. Johnstone is just 24, young for a keeper, and has played just over 50 professional games so could very well have an exciting future ahead of him. The problem with him, and every young goalkeeper, is that because of the nature of their position they are bound to make mistakes that cost goals and ultimately points.
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The question is, if Sam’s not the man then who is? Most would want Steve Bruce to bring in a goalkeeper from another club, but could the answer already be at the club? Mark Bunn would seem the most obvious option. He has played a handful of games so far this season, securing one clean sheet away at QPR but he never really staked a convincing claim for the number one shirt.
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Another option, that may have been forgotten, is that of Jed Steer. Last season, Steer played 38 games for Huddersfield in the Championship. It’s already been seen at Villa that players that played in the Championship last season have become key players this term, Nathan Baker being the obvious example having played 37 times for Bristol City. Both Steer and Johnstone are the same age, but Steer’s active loan spells may see him further along in his development. Despite this, both players could be a risk and a more experienced player from another club may be a wiser option.
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One of the most obvious candidates that fits that criteria is Allan McGregor. The 35-year-old is well known to Bruce, having been an ever present in between the sticks for Bruce’s Hull side that was promoted last season. Since Bruce left in the summer, McGregor has fallen down the pecking order and was shipped out on loan to Cardiff in the January transfer window.
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During his short stay in Wales, he has put in some strong performances with three clean sheets including one in an impressive 2-0 away win at Leeds. He may have limited sell on value or potential to improve, but he is a fantastic short term fix in my opinion. What you see is very much what you get, a solid keeper than has been there and done it in terms of promotion out of the Championship. A slightly younger option, is that of Alex Smithies.
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Anyone who watched Villa play QPR away will understand why Smithies name has been suggested. Not only did he save Kodjia’s first half penalty but he went on to make a string of fantastic saves, thwarting the claret and blue numerous times. It is true that Smithies stats aren’t as ‘pretty’ as other goalkeepers but he is playing behind a much weaker defence than he would be if he moved to Villa Park. Villa have the joint fifth best defence in the league and bringing someone like Smithies or even McGregor into the side can only improve that.
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​A player that has been mentioned, mainly due to his contract expiring soon, is that of Adrián from West Ham. Since joining the Hammers and up until the mid-part of this season, the Spanish keeper was an important player and was rewarded with his first international call up in August 2016. Since then however he has fallen out of favour under Slaven Bilic. Darren Randolph seems to have cemented the number one spot and the Spaniard may well be on his way out of the London Stadium come the summer.
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Out of all the candidates mentioned in this article, Adrián is the biggest name and has played the most Premier League games. This is obviously a good thing but could bring a few problems when it comes to getting him to sign on the dotted line. It could take a lot of persuading to get him to drop down a league when he will likely have offers from the top divisions in England and Spain. His Premier League wages could also be a problem, especially if Villa are to stay in line with financial fair play.
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It is clear from Bruce’s interview that he is a big fan of Johnstone and will do all he can to bring him to the club permanently. If it is Johnstone or another man starting the 2017/18 season in goal for Aston Villa, it will be paramount for the fans to support them. This is because the goalkeeper position is one of confidence and an 18-yard box can be an extremely lonely place when things aren’t going right. A safe pair of hands with the backing of the fans may just be the difference between promotion
or remaining in the Championship for a third season.
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Sam Johnstone is featured as a nominee for our Villa Player of the Month for March. You can find out the other three candidates and cast your vote here:
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