Sam Johnstone (Aston Villa from Man United)
With David de Gea and Sergio Romero well ahead of him in the pecking order at Manchester United, Johnstone is being primed for the next phase of his career away from Old Trafford. At 25, the former England Under-20 goalkeeper has become accustomed to heading out on loan in search of first-team football – this is the 10th time he’s done so, and this latest spell has allowed him to showcase greater maturity.
Brought in by Steve Bruce midway through last season, Johnstone rejoined Aston Villa over the summer. He’s been ever-present in the league, keeping 17 clean sheets in the club’s promotion push. Supporters who doubted Johnstone’s ability after a couple of shaky performances when he first arrived have been won over.
As United triggered a one-year extension in his contract, a fee will be required for Villa to sign him permanently.
Aleksandar Mitrovic (Fulham from Newcastle)
Since signing for Newcastle in the summer of 2015, the Serbian striker has largely been a cause of frustration and disappointment. Mitrovic retains some ardent supporters, but most Magpies have been left cursing his poor discipline and inability to assert his talent. The bullish attributes of a classic No.9 were always there, but never applied consistently or effectively enough at Premier League level.
In January 2018, though, Mitrovic joined Fulham on a six-month loan deal to spearhead the Cottagers' promotion charge – and has been a revelation. The west Londoners were a creative and free-flowing side that lacked a focal point earlier in the season, but they’ve been on an unstoppable run since.
Unbeaten in 18 games, Fulham are the Championship’s form team and automatic promotion is in their sights. Mitrovic’s eight goals in 11 appearances have played a huge part.
Jamal Blackman (Sheffield United from Chelsea)
Among Chelsea’s army of loanees, Blackman is yet to make a single first-team appearance for his parent club having come through their academy. The athletic and agile goalkeeper undoubtedly sees his future somewhere other than Stamford Bridge, and has been getting plenty of experience on loan in recent years.
He proved himself at League Two's Wycombe last season, making over 50 appearances in all competitions for the Chairboys, and has stepped up to Championship level impressively. Given Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder’s attacking approach, Blackman’s goal has often come under threat – but he’s coped admirably.
There were a few handling errors earlier in the season, and a slight dip in confidence as a result, which led to Blackman being dropped from the side. But he was back to his best until a comical red card against Brentford on Good Friday.
Kieran Dowell (Nottingham Forest from Everton)
It’s been another turbulent season for Nottingham Forest both on and off the pitch, with little sign of the progress that supporters had hoped for under new ownership. Performances have been strangely inconsistent and the East Midlanders once more find themselves in lower mid-table, with limited scope for improvement.
Aside from the emergence of some of their own young players, the contributions of Kieran Dowell have been among the few bright spots. The 20-year-old playmaker was in exceptional form before Christmas, carving open defences and scoring spectacular goals. Although he’s hit a difficult patch recently, it’s still been a productive loan spell overall for the Evertonian, who helped England U20s win last summer’s World Cup.
Oli McBurnie (Barnsley from Swansea)
A tricky and versatile attacker who can play out wide or through the middle, McBurnie wasn’t getting much of a chance at Swansea despite their struggle for goals under Paul Clement. No matter how often he scored for the club’s development side, he remained on the fringes of the first team. McBurnie started just twice in the Premier League, and the 21-year-old knew he needed to be playing more often. The opportunity arose to prove himself at Barnsley on deadline day, and he’s grasped it with both hands.
A slightly shabby appearance and low-slung socks are in keeping with his talents. McBurnie's dribbling skills and eye for goal have been richly rewarded, as he’s found the back of the net six times in 10 games. He was even named Championship Player of the Month for February and earned his first call-up to the Scotland squad, making his debut against Costa Rica.
Harry Wilson (Hull from Liverpool)
It’s strange to think that Wilson made his international debut against Belgium back in 2013, becoming the youngest player in Welsh history before he’d even played a minute of senior football for his club. At the time he was at the centre of a tug-of-war between England and the country of his birth, and Chris Coleman went to great lengths to secure his services.
Five years on, and still only 21, his form for Hull led to a recall under Ryan Giggs. He’s scored three goals and registered two assists from left wing, boosting the Tigers’ survival hopes in the process. Wilson played in both games of the China Cup too, finishing well in a crushing 6-0 win over the hosts for his first international goal.
Angus Gunn (Norwich from Manchester City)
The son of a former Norwich legend, Angus Gunn has proved himself an equally safe pair of hands. While his dad Bryan spent the majority of his career at Carrow Road, it was always likely to be a short stop on the way to bigger things for the Manchester City youngster.
The towering 6ft 5in goalkeeper plays for England U21s, and even had a call-up for the senior side in November when Jack Butland withdrew from the squad through injury. He's still being courted by Scotland too.
Although Norwich were expected to compete for promotion, they find themselves well adrift of that target in the bottom half of the table. Their patchy form isn’t for want of trying on Gunn’s part, though: he’s made some spectacular saves and kept 14 clean sheets for the Canaries. There'll be no shortage of interest from other clubs come the summer, but Pep Guardiola may choose to move on Claudio Bravo and promote Gunn to second choice.
Cameron Carter-Vickers (Ipswich from Tottenham)
The 20-year-old centre back spent the first half of the season on loan at Sheffield United, where he played regularly (even scoring against Bolton on his full debut) before being recalled by Spurs in January. It was felt that his development would be better served by playing elsewhere, and since then he’s missed just one game for Ipswich.
While supporter dissatisfaction with elusive owner Marcus Evans continues to cause issues at the club, combined with the often-turgid football played under Mick McCarthy, Carter-Vickers has at least been a positive addition.
Ipswich are keen to keep him beyond the end of the current season, and his stock has been boosted further after picking up a couple of caps for the US national team since his debut in November 2017.
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