Sam Johnstone

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Aston Villa beat West Brom in shootout to reach Wembley final

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Aston Villa moved one giant step closer to a return to the Premier League by topping local rivals West Bromwich Albion 4-3 on penalties in the EFL Championship promotion playoffs on Tuesday.

[ SEASON REVIEW: Man City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Spurs, Arsenal ]

West Brom erased what was a 2-1 deficit to begin the semifinal second leg. Away goals are not used as a tiebreaker in the Football League’s promotion playoffs, thus the two Birmingham sides were forced into a penalty shootout, where Jed Steer would atone for a nearly calamitous error early in the game and season full of similar blunders.

Villa were in England’s top tier from 1975 until suffering relegation in 2016; they fell to Fulham in last season’s promotion final at Wembley Stadium. West Brom, on the other hand, saw their eight-year run in the PL end this time last year.

Leeds United hold a 1-0 advantage over Derby County, heading home for Wednesday’s other semifinal second leg.

Craig Dawson scored the second leg’s only goal, a towering header from Mason Holgate‘s long throw-in, in the 29th minute.

Villa’s Tyrone Mings made a goal- and potentially season-saving block in the 53rd minute, after Steer gave the ball directly to West Brom’s Jacob Murphy, who took a touch toward goal and fired for the bottom corner, the ball destined for the inside netting. Mings recovered from out of nowhere — wide left, where he was an option for Steer to play the ball out — to get a foot in front of the ball and boot it away.

[ SEASON REVIEW: Man United, Wolves, Everton, Leicester, West Ham ]

Steer started the shootout by denying Holgate with ease, diving to his left and getting both hands behind the ball to keep it out. Conor Hourihane took the opportunity to put Villa ahead seconds later. Steer came up big once again, denying Ahmed Hegazi on West Brom’s second effort. Mile Jedinak‘s first touch after coming on late in extra time came at the penalty spot, and the Australian dispatched his effort as coolly as could be done.

Tosin Adarabioyo got West Brom on the board in round 3, but Jack Grealish restored the two-make advantage by sending Sam Johnstone the wrong way for the third straight penalty attempt. Kieran Gibbs nicked the inside Steer’s right-hand post in round 4, but by the grace of luck the ball found its way into the corner. Albert Adomah put Villa’s fourth attempt over the bar.

James Morrison hammered West Brom’s fifth past Steer, setting up on-loan Chelsea forward Tammy Abraham for the decisive penalty. It wasn’t the best penalty ever hit, as Johnstone got a trailing foot on the ball, but it had enough power behind it to sneak over the line and send Villa to Wembley.

Season preview: Negative vibes surround Man United

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Manchester United at a glance

Premier League titles: 13 (English First Division titles – 20, the record)
FA Cups: 12
League Cups: 5
European Cups: 3 (1968, 1999, 2008)

[ MORE: 2018/19 PL season preview hub ]  


They will be challenging Man City for the title… because on paper they probably have the second or third best squad in the PL. Lukaku, Sanchez, Pogba, Bailly, De Gea, Martial, Rashford, Mata, Matic… Yeah, you get the point. United’s current situation regarding a lack of incomings this summer isn’t as bad as Jose Mourinho is making out (more on that further down) and if they can get their act together and stop squandering chances, they’ll cut the 19-point gap to Man City from last season.

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Most likely Jose Mourinho will be out before December and they’ll be in midtable… it seemed ridiculous to write that sentence, but right now it really isn’t. Is it? Mourinho is approaching meltdown mode in his third season at United. Just like at other clubs he has hung around long enough to upset plenty of people and he appears to be quickly running out of friends on the board, among his squad and just about everywhere else. The fact that he’s one of the favorties with the bookmakers to be the first PL manager to be out of job this season says it all.


Best possible XI

—– De Gea —–

—- Valencia —- Jones —- Bailly —- Young —-

—- Matic —- Fred —-

—- Sanchez —- Pogba —- Rashford —-

—– Lukaku —–


Transfers in: Fred ($67 million, Shakhtar Donetsk), Diogo Dalot ($24.6 million, FC Porto), Lee Grant ($1.9 million, Stoke City)

Transfers out: Joe Riley (Bradford City), Sam Johnstone (West Brom), Daley Blind (Ajax)


Ranking their offseason: 2/10 – Couldn’t have really gone much worse for Mourinho’s` men as his constant complaints about most of their squad not being on their U.S. tour has whipped up a severe air of negativity around the Red Devils. Add that into lacklustre displays against the San Jose Earthquakes, AC Milan, Liverpool and Bayern Munich and there’s not a good vibe heading into the new season. Mourinho slamming the quality of United’s young players on the tour will not do wonders for their confidence, plus the likes of Lukaku and Pogba rushing back from their summer break early (as Mourinho hinted he’d like them to do) will likely create tension.


AP

Star man: Romelu Lukaku – He scored four times for Belgium this summer at the World Cup but the most impressive thing about his displays was the timing of his runs and how unselfish he was. Lukaku scored 27 goals in all competitions in his debut season at United, which was pretty good going and kind of flew under the radar. David De Gea is always a star for United but he had a few wobbles over the summer, while Alexis Sanchez looks refreshed after his summer off with Chile not at the World Cup. All three will be key to United’s success but Lukaku’s goals are vital and if Mourinho can figure out where to play Pogba, he will become a star.


Coaches’ Corner: Ah, yes, the old third-season syndrome is kicking in once again for Mr. Mourinho as he has publicly slammed his club for failing to buy the players he wants, plus has had a pop at rivals for spending too much. Add to that his grumpier than usual demeanour (yes, that is possible) and losing his top assistant Rui Faria over the summer, and you have the start of what is now becoming a predictable demise. Mourinho will still set his teams up to grind out wins but United’s supporters could soon turn on both him and Chief Executive Ed Woodward if they have a slow start to the season.


PST predicts: Finishing in the top four may well be a struggle for United this season considering Liverpool have bought well, Tottenham have kept hold of their stars and Manchester City look irresistible, plus Arsenal and Chelsea will be there or thereabouts. United will focus on going far in the UEFA Champions League and finishing in the top four and the latter will probably be as good as it gets.

Fulham returns to the Premier League

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The Premier League beckons once more for the Cottagers.

Fulham earned its way back into England’s first division on Saturday with a 1-0 win over Aston Villa in the final of the Championship promotion playoff.

[ MORE: PST ranks all 23 MLS managers ]

The victory ensures Fulham’s place in the PL for the first time since the 2013/14 campaign.

The Cottagers took the lead on 23 minutes when Tom Cairney slotted past goalkeeper Sam Johnstone.

Cairney was set up wonderfully by Ryan Sessegnon, who delivered an inch-perfect through ball into the path of his teammate for the 1-0 lead.

Slaviša Jokanović’s side was reduced to 10 men in the 70th minute, after defender Denis Odoi picked up his second yellow card.

Stefan Johansen nearly doubled the Fulham lead with 23 minutes remaining in the match, after Sessegnon set up the Norwegian on the edge of the penalty area.

The Villans came out with more ferocity after halftime, and Jack Grealish was at the center of Villa’s attack.

The 22-year-old made a brilliant individual run into the Fulham penalty area on the hour mark, but his final shot was straight at goalkeeper Marcus Bettinelli.

However, just minutes later Grealish was lucky to not be sent off when he came in late from behind on a challenge with Cairney.

Grealish and Co. nearly found an equalizer in the 50th minute when Grealish’s free header was sent over the Fulham goal.

Villa had its best chance of the opening stanza with five minutes to go from a set piece, but Grealish’s close-range shot was blasted well off target.

Robert Snodgrass‘ clever set piece chip did well to pick out Grealish, although the final product was severely lacking.

Fulham’s run back to the English top flight comes after a tremendous second half of the Championship season in 2017/18, which included a spell of 23 games unbeaten to close out the regular season.

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Championship Playoff Final preview: Fulham vs. Aston Villa

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Imagine playing in a single game where your performance over 90 minutes means the difference between over $300 million for your club or at least another year in the lower leagues.

That’s what is estimated to be on the line as Fulham and Aston Villa meet at Wembley on Saturday in the Championship playoff final at 12 p.m. ET hoping to earn the final spot in next year’s Premier League campaign.

Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce will be searching for an unprecedented fifth Championship promotion after previously guiding Birmingham City and Hull City to the top flight on multiple occasions. He is 2-0 in the playoff final, having won it previously once with each former club, taking Birmingham City to the Premier League in 2002 after defeating Norwich City in a penalty shootout, and earning the victory with Hull City in 2016 via a 1-0 victory over Sheffield Wednesday. Players Sam Johnstone and Robert Snodgrass have both won playoff finals before as well.

Fulham, meanwhile, has experience of its own on the touchline, as boss Slavisa Jokanovic has taken Watford to the top flight previously, finishing second in the Championship in 2015, but he has never experienced a playoff final before.

The Whites appear to be in the better form, having nearly ended the season in historic form with 24 straight unbeaten, but lost on the final day of the campaign, missing out on automatic promotion by just two points. They play a possession-based style under Jokanovic, and while it’s taken a while for the team to grasp the tactics, they look as deadly as ever. However, the last few games have exposed the team yet again, with the loss to lowly Birmingham on the final day before a 1-0 loss to Derby County in the first leg of their playoff semifinal, a scoreline which they turned around in the second leg at home.

The Fulham midfield duo of Kevin McDonald and Stefan Johansen has a claim to be the best pairing in the Championship over the past two seasons, and they anchor Jokanovic’s setup behind playmaker Tom Cairney. The club brought embattled Newcastle striker Aleksandr Mitrovic to London in January, and he’s brought a cutting edge to an attack that was just missing a target man up front. Young winger Ryan Sessegnon, who just turned 18 years old on Friday, has been the club’s most heralded player, and could move to a top Premier League side this summer, especially if the Whites fall at Wembley this weekend. Finally, USMNT defender Tim Ream has led the defensive improvement of a club that conceded 83 goals three seasons ago to halve that this campaign.

They’ll take that attacking prowess up against one of the league’s most pragmatic opponents, as Villa finished the regular season with the third-fewest goals allowed and shut out Middlesbrough across both legs in the semifinals. They feature former Chelsea defender John Terry anchoring the back line, and he partners with experienced 29-year-old James Chester who has played under Bruce before at Hull. Terry himself has won five separate trophies at Wembley Stadium, experience he will surely share with the squad.

Villa’s most dangerous player this season has been Albert Adomah whose blistering pace down the right has been something for opponents to deal with. However, he’s hit a cold streak, without a goal since scoring in a 4-1 win over champions Wolves back on March 10th.

Villa is looking to go back to the Premier League after relegation two years ago, while Fulham has spent four years in the second tier after being sent down back in 2014.

Report: Goalkeeper merry-go-round? West Ham looking for Hart replacement

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According to a report by the Daily Mail, on-loan Manchester United goalkeeper Sam Johnstone could be a popular figure come the summer as Premier League clubs look to make a change in net.

The report states that West Ham could be the early favorite for the 25-year-old netminder, as the Hammers are looking to move on from England starter Joe Hart. With Johnstone also in the mix for the England job before the 2018 World Cup, Hart could be threatened by the Manchester United youth product on two fronts. Another England shot-stopper Jack Butland proclaimed Johnstone is in direct competition for a spot on the World Cup roster despite remaining currently uncapped.

“I don’t live too far away from Sam and I bump into him a lot,” Butland said of his fellow countryman. “It is great to see him playing consistently. He has found a home and a club that cares for him, which is so important. There is more than just me, Joe, and Jordan [Pickford] fighting for the England shirt – Sam is firmly in the mix as well.”

Johnstone has spent this season on loan at Championship side Aston Villa, where the Claret & Blue sit in a playoff position. They have allowed just 37 goals this season, joint-fourth best in the league, with Johnstone in goal for every minute of the campaign.

Hart, meanwhile, has struggled with the Hammers. The England number 1 lost his starting job to Adrian in early December before starting West Ham’s most recent Premier League match before the international break, a 3-0 loss to Burnley. The Hammers sit in 17th position in the Premier League, just two points above safety, and relegation could mean Hart’s departure, although there’s a feeling that he may leave even if the Hammers do manage to stay up.

Johnstone has been sent out on loan seven times in his six professional years with Manchester United, but could potentially find a permanent home this summer if the right club comes calling.