If West Brom are to have any chance of staying in the Premier League this season, they are going to need more big performances from star goalkeeper, Sam Johnstone.
In no game was Johnstone’s importance to Sam Allardyce’s side more evident than the Baggies’ superb 1-1 draw against Manchester City back in December.
Prior to the contest, no one gave West Brom a hope. Even with Pep Guardiola’s side looking more of a soft touch at times this season, travelling to the Etihad Stadium remains one of the most daunting away trips in world football.
This was a Baggies side is dire form as well. Their only win of the campaign had come against a hapless Sheffield United, and even that was fortuitous. They had also shipped five goals to a team containing Christian Benteke just two games prior.
Despite all the signs pointing towards a City win, the Baggies somehow managed to gain a point, largely thanks to some goalkeeping heroics from Johnstone. Overall, he made seven saves, but it was in the closing stages where he really showed his worth.
In the final 15 minutes he made two, quickfire saves from Kevin De Bruyne – one from close range and one a free kick – before thwarting the Belgian once again by preventing his incredible cross being headed home by Raheem Sterling. He would then repeat the trick minutes later, scrambling to prevent Sterling nodding in the winner.
His display was resolute and composed, typical of a goalkeeper once on the books of table-topping Manchester United. Johnstone’s route to the top has not been the most conventional. Bouncing around the lower leagues on various loan spells, he finally made a name for himself at Aston Villa between 2017 and 2018.
When he was finally let go by United it would be another Midlands club, West Brom, that he would make his permanent home. A heartbreaking playoff semi-final exit at the hands of his former side Villa would follow in his first season, before he at last made it to the top flight last term.
His match-saving display against City has not been the only time Johnstone has caught the eye this season. In the Baggies 3-3 draw with Chelsea he completed an astonishing eight saves to help the Baggies secure their first points of the season.
His side’s 1-0 defeat to boyhood club United would have been significantly more embarrassing without him between the sticks as well. In that contest, Johnstone saved a penalty and registered a post-shot xG of 3.1. In layman’s terms, this means he saved his side two goals in total.
Several other statistics reflect very favourably on Johnstone. Over the course of the season, only six goalkeepers (Emiliano Martinez, Nick Pope, Alphonse Areola, Hugo Lloris, Alisson and Kasper Schmeichel) have registered a better PSxG minus goals allowed figure than him.
Also, in terms of sheer quantity of saves, Johnstone is leading the way with 77 – 10 more than second-placed stopper Karl Darlow.
All this leads to one conclusion: Without Johnstone, West Brom would be far worse off than they are already. If Big Sam is to continue his remarkable record of bringing teams back from the brink, his star goalkeeper is going to play a decisive role.