Sheffield United: Clough ready to play the Long game

Sheffield United goalkeeper George Long is on loan at Motherwell � BLADES SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY
Sheffield United goalkeeper George Long is on loan at Motherwell � BLADES SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY

Nigel Clough will summon George Long for talks at the end of the season to ascertain whether the Sheffield United goalkeeper is best served by another spell out on loan or staying to fight for his first team place, writes James Shield.

Clough rates Long, a former England youth international, highly but expressed fears his development could be stifled by a lack of senior football before dispatching him to Motherwell earlier this year.

The 21-year-old goalkeeper, who also enjoyed a brief stint with Oxford at the beginning of the campaign, has fallen behind Mark Howard in the pecking order at Bramall Lane but made his sixth appearance for the Scottish Premiership side during the Lanarkshire derby against Hamilton Academical earlier this month.

“When George comes back, we’ll sit down with him and see what’s best for everyone concerned,” Clough told The Star. “No decision has been taken yet.

“We want to have a chat with him and find out what he thinks too. It’s important we do the right thing by him and, as a direct result of that, the club.”

Although Long is still viewed as Howard’s obvious long-term successor, the latter’s performances before a persistent back injury limited his involvement suggest he will remain as Clough’s preferred option for the foreseeable future. United’s coaching staff, who allowed midfielder Kieran Wallace to join Lincoln City before Thursday’s emergency deadline, regard the loan system as an important rite of passage for United’s young and home-grown talent.

However, despite Iain Turner’s presence, medical staff at the Redtooth Academy are expected to ensure Howard’s injury has completely healed before taking a binding decision on the next phase of Long’s career. Howard was deemed fit enough to start last weekend’s League One fixture with Crewe Alexandra.

“Players who are still learning their trade will, by definition, make more mistakes than an experienced professional,” Clough said. “That’s not a criticism, it’s just an observation, because we’ve all been there.

“If they can make those mistakes somewhere else, as it were, then it’s better for us because they’ll be more experienced when they come back. Again, that’s not a criticism, it’s something everyone in the game will understand.

“There is absolutely no substitute whatsoever for actually being involved in games that matter when you are looking to improve.”

Twitter: @JamesShield1

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