Sheffield United manager Nigel Adkins has reaffirmed his belief in George Long, insisting the youngster possesses the credentials to become first-choice goalkeeper at Bramall Lane.
Long, a former England youth international, is expected to make his sixth appearance of the season during tonight’s Johnstone’s Paint Trophy tie against Fleetwood Town having deputised for Mark Howard in all but one of the visitors’ league outings this term.
But Adkins said: “We see George every day in training and he does really, really well. He has the physical attributes you need as a goalkeeper, his shot-stopping is exceptional which we always look at and his distribution is good as well. Nice and quick. It’s just about the decision-making and that comes with time.”
Adkins, a former goalkeeper himself, is particularly impressed with how Long has responded to the disappointment of conceding four goals when United visited Gillingham in August.
“George has got the mental toughness and resoluteness,” he said. “We’re really pleased with him and over time he’ll get better and better. I’ve probably got more empathy having been in that situation myself before. I was 17 when I made my debut and it was tough. You’ve got to perform, especially if you make a mistake. But you need to get knocked down to show you can get up again.”
Howard is poised to don the gloves when United return to League One action this weekend but Adkins’ words, combined with the decision to retain Long’s services rather than send him out on loan, can be interpreted as a sign the 29-year-old’s status is far from assured.
“Being a goalkeeper isn’t easy,” Adkins said. “One of the things you have to deal with is the fact that every time a goal goes in, the chances are someone is going to tell you it’s your fault. But you’ve got to deal with it and you learn my doing, by being put in that situation.”