No.1 Need

Before a ball was kicked this season MOMS stated how a more experienced goalkeeper should have been brought in to replace Brad Guzan. Starting the season with a 21-year-old inexperienced Pierluigi Gollini and a back-up keeper like Mark Bunn, who was lucky to be at Villa in the first place, was far from ideal.

The aim of the season was promotion and the less risks taken in achieving it, the better. An ideal choice to give Gollini competition and to step in if the Italian experiment went wrong, was a steady 7/10 keeper in their early 30’s, who was dependable and experienced, if not exactly top-notch.

Surprisingly, Di Matteo opted to trust in Gollini and ultimately it cost him his job, as the points lost directly due to the Villa keeper’s mistakes, would perhaps have bought him more time as Villa boss.

Steve Bruce has since dropped Gollini and has since witnessed the limitations of Mark Bunn first hand, and as a result, the first incoming January transfer to Villa Park is the loan signing of 23-year-old Manchester United third-choice goalkeeper Sam Johnstone.

 

Johnstone is the mooted verbal agreement that Bruce and Tony Xia publicly disclosed a few days ago. Part of the wait for the loan to actually go through seems to be down to waiting for United to complete the recalling of Portugal U-20 keeper Joel Pereira from his loan at Belenenses to replace Johnstone.

Some outlets have reported that Bruce may have a £2m first-refusal opportunity to secure the services of Johnstone long-term at the end of the season, if he works out. A price that suggests that Villa may have paid over the odds for Gollini.

Young Guns

So why go for another young gun in-between the sticks instead of somebody more experienced?

Having two former United youth products in Gollini and Johnstone go head-to-head may not be a bad thing in terms of competition, but again there isn’t that safe experienced option to fall back on.

Both are decent shot stoppers, Gollini may have slightly better distribution, but it’s Johnstone’s edge in commanding his box that is the most important quality. At 6 ft 312, he’s also slight taller than Gollini (6ft 2).

‘Johnstone has the distinction of keeping a clean sheet in a play-off final at Wembley’

Is a head-to-head the scenario at play here though? Gollini would surely understand if an older keeper came in (someone he could also learn from), but almost a like-for-like signing won’t exactly fill the Italian with confidence that Bruce is too keen on him.

There’s been rumours of Gollini moving on already, but we’ll have to see how the January window transpires to see if there’s any truth in that.

There is Another

Another keeper linked to Villa has been QPR’s Alex Smithies, who Villa were reportedly interested in during the January window six years ago, after he caught Gérard Houllier’s eye. The Huddersfield-born keeper is 26, but has almost 300 appearances in the English football leagues to his name. He’s established himself as a decent Championship keeper, so would expect to be the number one, if he signed for Villa.

 

Having seen him against Villa recently, he saved Kodjia’s penalty and made a series of smart stops, but should have done better with Kodjia’s winner that beat him at his near post.

However, it’s unlikely that Johnstone would come to Villa, if Smithies was on his way too.

Certainly it would be a better scenario for Villa to have both, as that would be an upgrade on what we have, although that would certainly signal the end of Gollini.

Number One?

It looks like that Johnstone will be Bruce’s main man though. Having played 82 games on various loan periods, most notably double loan periods at both Preston and Doncaster, the United stopper actually has more match experience than Gollini.

While perhaps not the ideal keeper scenario, if Johnstone works out, then Villa will have saved considerable money and will be able to address the issue properly at the end of the season. Best case scenario, Johnstone may even go on to be one of the best English keepers around as Villa’s long-term keeper.

Johnstone has the distinction of keeping a clean sheet in a play-off final at Wembley, when he helped Preston get promotion to the Championship in 2015. It’s something that would have swung the decision for Bruce and something that Villa supporters will hope he can repeat at the end of this season.

UTV

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