George Long is likely to feature in goal for next Tuesday’s Johnstone’s Paint Trophy clash at Hartlepool, after Nigel Adkins revealed the young stopper retains the full support of Sheffield United’s coaching staff.
Long was a surprise choice between the posts for United’s opening-day trip to Gillingham and shipped four goals in an unconvincing display in Kent. He subsequently lost his place to Mark Howard but was recalled on Tuesday evening, and caught the eye on an otherwise-disappointing night for United as they lost 3-0 at Fulham and had Kieran Wallace and Jose Baxter sent off.
The 21-year-old, who has made 82 senior appearances for United since his debut in May 2011, impressed last season on loan at Motherwell as they beat Rangers in a play-off to secure their SPL place and Blades boss Adkins said: “George was commanding, he came and caught crosses well and made some good saves. Arguably, the result was unfair on him.
“It was important for him to get some confidence back after that first game at Gillingham, and we saw this game as an idea opportunity to get him back out there on the field.
“We have a lot of belief and confidence in George going forward, and how will he develop even more if he doesn’t play games? To improve, he’s got to get out there and play, so this was an ideal chance to do that and the JPT game at Hartlepool is another.”
Before then, however, United travel to Swindon - their conquerers in last season’s play-off semi-final - this weekend, with Howard expected to regain his place between the posts.
But as a young stopper with over 100 first-team appearances under his belt already, Long is surely destined for a long and successful career in the game.
“I’m a better player, definitely, than before I went to Motherwell,” Long said.
“ “I’ve been able to get so much experience, on and off the pitch, which is good.
“The biggest thing has probably been my consistency levels. They’re really up and I’m pleased with that.
“Even just moving away from home, living somewhere else and getting used to another club, has been valuable. It’s been great to get that at such a young age too.”
Long was a stand-out performer as Motherwell beat Rangers 3-1 and 3-0 to retain their place in the Scottish top-flight, and the Sheffield-born goalkeeper added: “I felt like I did alright in the play-off games.
“I made a few decent saves at Ibrox and, being 3-1 up already, the game back at Motherwell was a little more comfortable.
“Overall, I’m happy with how it went up there.”