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Big guns circle for Johnston but Ards stopper urged to stay

Goalkeeper Sam Johnston.
Goalkeeper Sam Johnston.

By Graham luney

Ards defender Craig McClean hopes young goalkeeper Sam Johnston will continue his education at the north Down club and resist the urge to jump ship.

The 22-year-old stopper has been in sensational form this season and his heroics will not have gone unnoticed around the league.

With Roy Carroll approaching the end of his career at Linfield there is the possibility of the Blues bringing Johnston back to Windsor Park, where he started out, but there will be a long list of clubs seeking his signature.

Ards boss Colin Nixon is determined to hold onto his gifted number one for as long as possible and left-back McClean believes the youngster should consider rejecting the advances of big clubs.

"Sam has been excellent and I wouldn't be surprised if the big teams were looking at him," said the former Crusaders ace.

"My advice to him would be stay where you are. There is no point in going somewhere and sitting on the bench. He's playing week in, week out at Ards and developing all the time.

"I hope he stays at Ards for a while but of course you have to be realistic and recognise that players have personal ambitions to play at a high level.

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"Sam can thrive in a full-time environment, either in the south or across the water. He has the ability and as one of the experienced players at Ards I feel I can help him and encourage him to develop in the right way."

Johnston honed his skills at the Linfield academy and a brilliant performance in Ards' 0-0 draw at Windsor Park last month will have impressed Blues boss David Healy.

But Nixon's immediate priority is tonight's fixture at home to Institute and his cause hasn't been helped by a growing injury list.

A home win would see Ards climb above Institute into ninth spot.

McClean, who helped Crusaders win three Premiership titles, is also keeping track of his old club's progress and he's not reading too much into the champions' sluggish start.

"I am completely all for Crusaders going full-time but it's a long term plan and I think it's not surprising there are a few bumps in the road," he added.

"Gavin Whyte (now at Oxford Utd) is irreplaceable. There is no-one else in this league on his level. Stephen Baxter couldn't buy a player to replace him and bring in what he does.

"If Gavin was in the team they would have more points."

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