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Slaven Bilic believes Sam Johnstone’s form has put him in England contention

Manchester United v West Bromwich Albion – Premier League – Old Trafford
(Image credit: Catherine Ivill)

Slaven Bilic has warned Sam Johnstone he cannot allow his standards to drop if he wants to remain among the crop of goalkeepers challenging Jordan Pickford for his England shirt.

The 27-year-old played a key role in West Brom’s first Premier League victory of the season against Sheffield United last Saturday to underline his quality.

Former Manchester United youth player Johnstone is being spoken of in the same bracket as Nick Pope, Dean Henderson and Aaron Ramsdale as they attempt to oust Pickford as Gareth Southgate’s first-choice keeper and having come up against England during his time as Croatia manager, Bilic knows that strength in depth has not always been there.

He said: “At the moment – and it wasn’t the case always – England have a few good young goalkeepers. I remember when I was six years international [manager] in Croatia, we played a few games with England because we were in the same group for the Euros and for the World Cup for four years.

“Then there were not a lot of English goalkeepers in the Premier League, so you have a situation that even the guys who were on the bench at their clubs had to be in the national team.

“Now it’s a great competition because they are all good. They are all playing and they are quite young and positive and they are challenging one another, and it’s a great thing for England.

“But Sam is definitely one of them.”

Bilic was in the Croatia dugout the night in October 2006 when then England keeper Paul Robinson famously took an air-shot to Gary Neville’s back-pass in Zagreb, handing the home side their second goal in a 2-0 European Championship qualifier victory.

Johnstone was already on the books at the Hawthorns following a £6.5million switch from Old Trafford when Bilic arrived in June last year, but the manager has been hugely impressed with what he has seen of him since.

Bilic, whose side faces Crystal Palace on Sunday, said: “He was in the Championship and he was one of the reasons why we got promoted.

“He is very calm, great feet, a great shot-stopper, he can distribute the ball, everything. He didn’t have experience in the Premier League, so there’s always a question, ‘How will he do?’, like also for outfield players.

“Touch wood, he’s been great for us so far this season, and we need him. I told him that. ‘Yes, brilliant, but you have to continue like that because we need you in every game’. He’s taking that responsibility and that challenge in a great way.”