Preston North End manager Simon Grayson has highlighted Sam Johnstone’s performance as being key to PNE’s Easter Monday victory at Bradford.
Two saves from the keeper proved pivotal in the Valley Parade clash which North End won 3-0.
The first on the stroke of half-time, with the game goalless, denied Jon Stead after Tom Clarke’s attempted back pass fell short.
At 2-0, Johnstone dived to tip over a long-range effort from Billy Clarke – moments later, North End fired their third goal to clinch victory.
Grayson said: “Sam’s save just before half-time was a massive one.
“Had that gone in we would have been looking at a totally different game.
“Even the one at 2-0 was a key save – that was heading right for the top corner until he got there.
“That would have made it 2-1 with 10 minutes to go and the atmosphere was getting going.
“A lot of people questioned why we brought Sam to the club when we did.
“But I said at the time and have said since that if someone becomes available who you think can improve the team, then you do it.
“Sam has contributed in different ways, coming out for crosses, shot-saving and his distribution is up there.
“I’ve been really pleased with how he has done.
“Sam will be the first to admit that he’s had a lot of protection in front of him from the defence.
“We went with three at the back at Bradford which suited us to start with.”
Monday afternoon’s clean sheet was the ninth kept by Johnstone in his 16 games for North End.
The defence which in the main protected him well at Bradford, changed during the interval after Paul Huntington felt more discomfort from the back injury he picked up at Fleetwood.
While the initial concern was the bang on the head he suffered, it was the blow to the defender’s back which kept him out of the Good Friday win over Rochdale.
Ironically, it was a collision with team-mate Johnstone which did the damage!
Said Grayson: “Hunts was feeling his back at half-time on Monday so we thought it best to make the change.
“He got the whack from Sam at Fleetwood and with the battering he got from James Hanson on the far side in the first half, I’m not surprised Hunts had a bit of a relapse.
“I’m sure that with a couple of days’ rest, he will be okay for the weekend.”
Grayson has given the squad two days off to recover from the Easter matches and freshen up ready for the visit of leaders Bristol City to Deepdale on Saturday.
“Regardless of the result on Monday, I was always going to give the lads who had played both games a couple of days off,” said Grayson.
“At this stage of the season they are not going to get any fitter and it is nice for them to have some down time.
“We aren’t doing it because we think we have achieved something, we’ve given them the time to re-charge their batteries ahead of Saturday’s top-of-the-table game.
“If I was really hard I would have had them in every day but you need to get the right balance in order to refresh mentally and physically.”