The former England youth international, who has been offered a new long-term contract by Sheffield United, explained Howard’s presence pushed him “all the way” as the battle to become Nigel Adkins’ number one goalkeeper intensified.
“Mark is a great professional and he’s pushed me all the way, every single day,” Long said. “So I had to really focus, give everything in every single session, to try and keep the shirt. It was great for the manager to put his faith in me and praise me. I showed what I could do in training and I stayed patient as well.”
With Howard poised to leave Bramall Lane during the close season, United opened talks with Long’s representatives earlier this year after he cemented his place in Adkins’ starting eleven. Although United’s manager refused to divulge any details of those negotiations before Sunday’s match against Scunthorpe, the player himself admitted he had no “plans to be going anywhere else.”
“It’s up to the club to discuss things behind the scenes and then announce them when they choose,” Long said. “This is a great football club and it’s one I want to be at for a very, very long time.”
Despite seeing his own position come under scrutiny - the defeat by Graham Alexander’s side condemned United to their lowest league finish since the early Eighties - Adkins began preparing for the 2016/17 campaign yesterday. Because of Long’s age - the Steelphalt Academy graduate turned 22 in November - coaching staff have also briefed his family on their future plans.
“I’m feeling good and as if I’m getting better with every game,” Long said. “I work hard every single day in training and I’m a great believer that doing that helps the performances take care of themselves. That’s the key, consistent hard work.”