Sunday, January 29, 2023

Middlesbrough Close In On This Manchester United Youngster: But Is It A Wise Move?

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Josh Barker
Middlesbrough FC correspondent for The 4th Official.

Garry Monk has yet to make his first senior signing of the summer. However, rumours have emerged that Manchester United academy product 24-year-old Sam Johnstone could be the first. Johnstone began his youth career with Manchester United in 2009. He then moved to the senior squad in 2011. But Johnstone has yet to register an appearance for Manchester United’s first team.

Since 2011 he has enjoyed a plethora of loan spells at clubs such as Scunthorpe, Yeovil, Doncaster, Preston North End and most recently Championship side Aston Villa. It does look unlikely that Sam will ever be a first team keeper for United. So, after an impressive season at Aston Villa, he has attracted the attention of several clubs. These include of course Middlesbrough but also Aston Villa where he was on loan last season.

So, let us take a look at the Pros and Cons of signing Sam.

Clean sheet record

One thing that suggests they should is his clean sheet record. Last season Sam Johnstone spent the second half of the season on loan at Aston Villa in the Championship. In that time he was their number one keeper playing 21 league games. In those games, he managed to keep eight clean sheets. That is very close to being a clean sheet every other game which is a very impressive record. Especially when you think that Villa were not even a top side last season. They finished in 13th place.

So, for Johnstone to spend half a season at a mid table Championship side and nearly keep a clean sheet every other game shows how good he is. To put it into perspective, the keeper with the most clean-sheets in the Championship last season was newly promoted Brighton’s David Stockdale with 20 in 45 games. This like Johnstone’s record is just under a clean sheet every other game. Therefore, if Sam was able to match a record similar to the best in the league while he was at a mid table team, surely that shows how good he is.

Boro are already known for being solid at the back so if Johnstone is made Middlesbrough’s number one, there’s no reason why he couldn’t easily keep 20 plus clean sheets next season.

Better options out there?

While there is no doubt Johnstone would be a solid keeper for Middlesbrough to sign is there better options out there? The answer is probably yes. Johnstone is reportedly only going to cost £2.5 million. Which is actually pretty cheap in today’s market and with such a low price tag you would think it would be hard for Boro to find anyone else of the same quality for so cheap.

That is not the case. Middlesbrough are also rumoured to be triggering Sheffield Wednesday’s Keiren Westwood’s £3 million buyout clause.

Westwood is also significantly more experienced and better than Johnstone. He has been a mainstay in the Owls Championship side for many years now. He also has proven quality after keeping 15, 14 and 17 clean sheets in his past three seasons. With this in mind if Boro would only have to pay £500,000 more for a keeper of Westwood’s quality, maybe Boro should let Villa sign Johnstone.

What about Boro’s keepers?

Now, this is probably some bias creeping in but what is wrong with Boro’s current keepers? Yes, Valdes and Guzan have both left. But Middlesbrough still have two perfectly good keepers left. Fan favourite Dimi has just signed a new one-year contract meaning he is available next season. Granted Dimi did play just once last season. However, in his previous two Championship seasons, Dimi kept 22 and 21 clean sheets. The most in the league in both seasons. This shows that while Dimi didn’t get a chance to prove himself in the Premier League he really should be given another chance in the Championship given how good he was last time Middlesbrough where in there.

Furthermore, if Boro does go for Johnstone they would be getting a 24-year-old slightly inexperienced keeper. Do you know who else is 24 and slightly inexperienced? Boro’s other keeper Connor Ripley. Admittedly Ripley has played less Championship games than Johnstone. But after such an impressive season in League One with Oldham where he kept 18 clean sheets, the most in the league, why don’t Boro just give Ripley a chance instead of spending money on a player similar to Ripley.

Overall, Sam Johnstone would be a good keeper in the Championship if Middlesbrough sign him. However, Keiren Westwood is also rumoured to be wanted by Boro and would be a better choice. Also, there isn’t even too much of a reason why Middlesbrough needs to sign a keeper. They have a quality experienced Championship keeper in Dimi. They also have a young English keeper like Johnstone, in Ripley who was the best keeper in League One last season and thus should be given the chance to prove he can do the same in a bigger league.

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