Playing at Windsor's a wonderland for Ards star Johnston as Linfield held at home
Linfield 0 Ards 0
Northern Ireland fan Sam Johnston admitted playing at Windsor Park on Saturday was a dream come true.
The 22-year-old Ards goalkeeper turned in a performance that any international shot-stopper would have been proud of against David Healy's Danske Bank Premiership table-topping Linfield.
His handling was impeccable as he frustrated the eager Blues time and time again.
And, on the two occasions they did manage to the better of Johnston, Johnny Frazer got back to make a fantastic acrobatic goal line clearance, while Andy Waterworth rapped the top of the crossbar from six yards.
Little wonder Johnston, a regular in the Kop Stand for every international, was beaming from ear to ear at the finish.
"I'm a big Northern Ireland fan, so to play at Windsor Park is a dream come true," he admitted. "I tried to live up to the hype of the place by putting in a good performance.
"Colin (Nixon) always wants his goalkeepers to be dominant, come and take the crosses and protect the back four. It's my job. I wanted to take the pressure off the boys in front of me.
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"It's also helps build my confidence. Linfield had loads of possession, but they didn't create all that many clear-cut chances.
"I had to push one away right at the start and, when Waterworth came through, I managed to get something on his shot. Johnny managed to get back and hook the ball off the line. I was joking with him later that if I hadn't got a touch to it, he would have no chance of hooking that one clear.
"Seriously, he did brilliantly to get back - don't even know what he was doing back there."
Ironically, Johnston was once on the books of Linfield, having progressed through the club's academy.
He added: "I was at Linfield four years ago. In fact, I played in the final game for the Under-19 team before the Kop Stand was knocked down. So, to play at this fantastic stadium is a different ball game . . . with different surroundings and a great pitch.
"I'll be back again next week for the internationals. I've my seat booked already . . . just a few down from the boys who beat the big drum."
Ards chief Colin Nixon also doffed his cap in the direction of his young shot stopper.
He said. "We worked hard to get him to the club. I think there may have been a few raised eyebrows when we made him number one, but we firmly believed in him.
"I know what he is capable of," said Nixon. "When you put in a performance like that, it helps the boys in front of him.
Linfield boss David Healy insisted his boys became increasingly frustrated as they failed to find the net for the first time this season.
"I didn't need to have a rant and rave at the players afterwards," he said. "I didn't feel the need to do that because the players have been terrific so far.
"I thought they went about things the right way, we just couldn't get the goals at the vital stage.
"In the second half, we bombarded them, but failed to find a way through. The place becomes edgy. The players then start making strange decisions by going for the long ball, which isn't our style.
"We relied on too many long balls . . . the crowd were becoming tense. But we just couldn't unlock their defence.
"It's difficult to keep patience under those circumstances, even though we were still on top of the game. The players have got to be brave and courageous enough to keep doing what they were doing and what they were asked to do by the coaching staff.
"My message to them was to remain patient and keep the shape. We didn't pick the right pass at times. The longer it went on, the more frustrated we became."
LINFIELD: Carroll, Robinson (Stafford, 87 mins), Callacher, Waterworth, O'Connor, Cooper, Clarke (Stewart, 79 mins), Kearns, Mitchell, Quinn (Millar, 71 mins), Casement. Unused subs: Fallon, Smith, Garrett, Deane.
ARDS: Johnston, Kerr, Byers, Taylor, Frazer (E McAllister, 79 mins), Cherry, Kelly, D McAllister, Kelly (McLellan, 89 mins), McClean, Nelson (Tommons, 73 mins). Unused subs: Mooney, Mitchell, McKenna, McAleenan.
Referee: Andrew Davey (Bangor)
Man of the match: Sam Johnston
Match rating: 6/10