PNE happy with keeper situation

Sam Johnstone pictured at North End last season

Sam Johnstone pictured at North End last season

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Preston North End manager Simon Grayson says a return to Deepdale for goalkeeper Sam Johnstone ahead of the close of the loan window, was never on the cards.

The Lilywhites were linked during the week with a move for the Manchester United shot-stopper, as were fellow Championship clubs Wolves and Fulham – their opponents today at Craven Cottage.

As it was, Johnstone stayed put at Old Trafford when the Football League’s loan window shut on Thursday.

Jordan Pickford’s excellent form this season always made a late move for Johnstone very unlikely.

However, if Sunderland were to recall Pickford during the January transfer window, Grayson hinted strongly that Johnstone would be a target.

Grayson said: “I saw the story about Sam and he is desperate to get out to get some games.

“We have Jordan Pickford here who is doing very well and it would have been difficult for us to take Sam in because of how well Jordan is doing.

“You cannot have that level of quality sat on the bench.

“If something was to change in the next window with Jordan, we have made our intentions clear with Sam right from the summer.

“It is very much seeing how things develop.”

Johnstone spent the second half of last season on loan at North End, playing 25 games.

The last of those was the play-off final victory over Swindon at Wembley in May.

Grayson attempted to bring the Leyland lad back to the club in the summer. But with United taking much of the close season to sort out their goalkeeping position, North End changed course in late July and took Pickford on a season’s loan.

The England Under-21s keeper has greatly impressed, with 10 clean sheets in 20 league and cup appearances.

Sunderland have a short window in January when they can recall him, although it is believed they have not been in contact about the possibility.

At United, Johnstone has not made a single appearance this season, despite getting plenty of game-time on their pre-season tour of the USA.

Said Grayson: “Sam is a very good keeper, his pedigree is there for everyone to see.

“He has ended up in a difficult situation personally by being Manchester United’s No.3 keeper and hardly playing any football.

“We have been very fortunate here to have had some good keepers in Declan Rudd and Sam Johnstone, while Jordan Pickford has been outstanding.

“Also we have Chris Kirkland’s experience, so it is an area we are very strong in.”

Grayson, meanwhile, has called on his players to up the quality of service going into PNE’s strikers as he looks for more goals from his side.

“It is okay saying that the strikers haven’t scored too many goals, but we need more creativity and cleverness about us,” said Grayson. “We need better delivery into the box and to be brighter.”