Steve Bruce has backed under-fire goalkeeper Sam Johnstone to bounce back from his blunders against Huddersfield Town.
Johnstone made two errors leading to goals for the Terriers before West Bromwich Albion fought back to seal a point at The Hawthorns on Friday night.
Supporters have been critical of Johnstone, with some calling for understudy David Button to replace the England international against league leaders Fulham tonight.
Part of the frustration boils down to Johnstone’s contract situation. The 28-year-old’s deal expires at the end of the season and Albion have effectively admitted defeat in their bid to keep him.
Manchester United are the latest team being linked with Johnstone, who left Old Trafford to join the Baggies for £6.5million in 2018.
“They’re right to voice their concern,” said head coach Bruce. “The biggest disappointment for me is that he is out of contract. However, it’s football these days, it’s something that has been going around for years.
“We’re probably going to lose our biggest asset on a Bosman (free transfer), which is not great for everybody. The supporters are right (to be concerned), but he’s a very good goalkeeper. He will be disappointed. These things happen, goalkeepers make mistakes, but thankfully he doesn’t make many of them.
“He’s been a very good goalkeeper here for years. Wasn’t he the player of the year last year? That doesn’t change because he makes a mistake or because he’s out of contract.
“He will be disappointed. Everyone makes mistakes, it’s how you react and recover from it and I’m confident Sam will do that.”
READ: Steve Bruce reveals West Brom set for imminent double injury boost
READ: Manchester United linked with free West Brom transfer on one condition
Johnstone has 13 clean sheets in 31 appearances for Albion this season, while Button also kept one when he started the 3-0 win over Peterborough United in January, but the chances of another shut-out against Fulham appear slim.
The table-topping Cottagers have scored 90 times in their 36 Championship matches so far, and 35 of those have been scored by Serbian goal machine Aleksandar Mitrovic. Mitrovic broke the Championship scoring record in February and netted a hat-trick when Fulham beat Albion back in October.
Bruce hasn’t devised a plan to stop Mitrovic, but admits Johnstone and Albion’s defenders must be at the top of their game.
“You can’t make a special plan, but I have to say he was the reason why Fulham got promoted a couple of years ago,” said Bruce. “At this level in particular, he’s absolutely outstanding.
“He’s a very good footballer, who leads the line exceptionally well, intelligent, and strong. 35 goals with 10 to play? That’s absolutely staggering isn’t it. We’ll have to defend well against him, it’s quite simple.
“We’ll have to make sure we’re alive in the box, because when he’s in there he’s a threat, in the air in particular. You’re asking your centre-halves to stop them all scoring every week, they’ll have to play well though. We’ll keep him quiet if we can. He’s a good player.”