Preston North End’s new shot-stopper Sam Johnstone says he did not give up first-team football at Doncaster Rovers just to warm the bench at Deepdale.
The Manchester United man ended a 27-match loan spell as first-choice keeper at North End’s fellow League One outfit Donny to join the Lilywhites’ promotion push.
And now the England Under-21s international, who is from Leyland, is ready to battle it out with Simon Grayson’s current first choice Thorsten Stuckmann and former Leyton Orient keeper Jamie Jones for the coveted No.1 jersey against the O’s tonight.
The 21-year-old told the Evening Post he did not make the ‘difficult’ decision to leave Paul Dickov’s Donny side to sit on the sidelines.
He said “The other two goalkeepers have obviously been playing this term too and they will be fighting for a place as well as me.
“I’m sure they will push me and I will push them.
“I’m just concentrating on playing, training and hopefully getting in the team.”
Johnstone has kept three clean sheets in 10 league games for Donny this season – including one against PNE’s title rivals Swindon Town in Rovers’ 1-0 victory last month.
But the Preston-born keeper – whose dad Glenn made 10 appearances in goal for the Lilywhites in the 1992-93 season – admitted his connection with the city and desire for a promotion battle, lured him back across the Pennines.
He said: “Sometimes you need new challenges. I thought I needed that.
“I’ve been at Doncaster last season and this season.
“It was a difficult decision and if it wasn’t Preston – my home town – then the likelihood is that I would have stayed at Doncaster a little bit longer.”
The former Wellfield High School pupil and Euxton Villa player was snapped up aged 10 by Manchester United.
He moved to Manchester at 14 to join their academy and that decision paid off as Johnstone became a key figure in United’s 2011 FA Youth Cup-winning side.
The Red Devils beat Sheffield United 6-3 on aggregate to lift the trophy at Old Trafford.
Since then many of that talented crop have flown the nest.
Ravel Morrison and Michael Keane now play for Premier League clubs West Ham and Burnley, respectively, whilst Paul Pogba has a thriving career in the Italian top flight with Juventus.
Johnstone is temporarily leaving the Red Devils to gain first-team experience just as Ex-Barcelona goalie Victor Valdes becomes United boss Louis van Gaal’s fifth keeper.
He said: “You see how many great players come through Manchester United’s academy. They have great coaching and facilities.
“I had a very good age group so we all pushed each other too. I was in a team with Ravel Morrison, Paul Pogba (below), Mike Keane, Jesse Lingard, Larnell Cole, Ryan Tunnicliffe and Will Keane.
“We won the Youth Cup but we are at an age now were we are finding careers elsewhere.
“I’m at an age where I need to be out playing and gaining experience.
“Former PNE player Warren Joyce is the Under-21s coach. I’ve been with him a few years – he is a very good coach and I really liked working with him.”
The keeper has limited memories of his father’s time between the sticks for John Beck’s side back in the early nineties.
But he is eager to mark his homecoming with a starting place tonight. He said: “I’m very excited, hopefully I will make my debut tonight.
“As I have been growing up, my dad has told me stories about PNE but I tend to switch off.
“He is proud, the family is proud and I’m proud. My dad played here a long time ago. I think I was probably one at the time.
“He still works in the area and a lot of his friends are Preston fans, so everyone is happy.
“My parents still live in the area and they will definitely be there tonight. They have always supported me, whatever club I’ve been at. But this will be an added bit of an excitement, being our home town.”
Johnstone is not the only Leyland lad with United’s connections, the keeper’s ex-team-mate Phil Jones also hails from the town. Johnstone is at Deepdale until the end of the season but he does not know whether the deal will be made permanent.
He said: “I’m not sure, that is up to the club and Manchester United. We need to concentrate on getting promoted first and then we will see what happens.”