Glove story for PNE keepers

Goalkeeper Sam Johnstone will be between the sticks  when Preston North End  face Swindon 'in the play-off 'final at Wembley 'this weekend

Goalkeeper Sam Johnstone will be between the sticks when Preston North End face Swindon 'in the play-off 'final at Wembley 'this weekend

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Three goalkeepers have stood between the posts this season as Preston have pursued their target of winning promotion.

It will be Sam Johnstone who pulls on the gloves at Wembley but Thorsten Stuckmann and Jamie Jones have also worn for the PNE goalkeeper’s jersey for spells.

For the best part of 18 months between February 2013 and May last year, Declan Rudd was North End’s first-choice keeper.

When he returned to parent club Norwich City last summer – Rudd will be on the Canaries bench at Wembley for Monday’s Championship final – it meant a new era in the Deepdale goalkeeper department.

Preston signed Jones on a Bosman from Leyton Orient at the end of May last year.

Jones played the opening 17 league games of the season and two Capital One Cup matches.

He kept nine clean sheets in that run but questions began to be asked about the command of his box.

After three league defeats in a row to Rochdale, Swindon and Bradford, PNE boss Simon Grayson went for a change.

The popular Stuckmann was recalled for the visit to league leaders Bristol City on November 22.

It was a big call from Grayson but ultimately the correct one as North End won 1-0 at Ashton Gate. Stuckmann was to enjoy a 12-match unbroken run in the side, keeping seven clean sheets.

But after defeats to Walsall in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy and Sheffield United in the league in January, there was to be a third goalkeeping change.

Johnstone arrived on loan from Manchester United for the remainder of the season.

The signing raised a few eyebrows, the goalkeeper position not appearing like a priority at the time.

Grayson had enquired about Johnstone last summer only to be told he was not available for loan.

He was subsequently allowed out on loan to Doncaster a few months later.

United recalled Johnstone from Donny in order for him to join North End.

Raised in Leyland, he had joined United as a youngster.

His dad, Glenn Johnstone, played 10 games for Preston during the 1992/93 season before injury ended his career.

To start with, Johnstone and Stuckmann were to share the keeping duties.

Johnstone being cup-tied saw Stuckmann continue to play in the JPT and FA Cup.

In the meantime, Jones was loaned out to Coventry and then to Rochdale.

Stuckmann’s last game before being consigned to the bench full time, was high-profile to say the least.

He faced Manchester United in the FA Cup at Deepdale.

Famously, the German was adjudged to have tripped Wayne Rooney which led to United’s third goal from the penalty spot – Rooney taking ‘evasive action’ to avoid the keeper’s challenge.

It has been Johnstone all the way since, playing the last 19 league and play-off matches.

He kept 12 clean sheets in that run, five of them in a row in February.

Two of the shut-outs came in both semi-final legs of the play-offs.

His save to deny Chesterfield striker Sam Clucas at 0-0 in the second leg was a crucial point of the contest – within 90 seconds, North End went up the other end to score.

Johnstone is looking forward to his Wembley appearance

The 22-year-old said: “It is a big game but you can’t let the occasion take over you really.

“It’s another game that we’re going to set out to go and win.

“It will be difficult because obviously it’s a big stadium. It’s a nice stadium, there will be a lot of people there and we can’t let it take over the job that we are going there to do.

“I’m looking forward to it. It’s exciting – not many people can say they are going to play at Wembley.

“I’ve been there to watch Manchester United and now it is nice to get the opportunity to get on the pitch.”

Should PNE beat Swindon to earn their place in the Championship, there is every chance of Johnstone staying at Deepdale next season.

When he joined on loan, there was talk of it leading to a permanent move.