Mark Howard can make the Sheffield United No 1 jersey his own with a good performance against Rotherham United on Saturday, manager David Weir has revealed.
Howard will make his first league appearance since October last year against Steve Evans’ Millers at the New York Stadium, in the absence of George Long.
Long, who established himself as United’s No 1 goalkeeper after Howard missed the last six months of last season with injury, has been included in the England U21 squad which begins its UEFA Championship qualifying campaign against Moldova tonight, before facing Finland in Tampere on Monday.
That means Howard, who kept a clean sheet in United’s Johnstone’s Paint Trophy tie at Scunthorpe United on Tuesday evening, and then saved a spot kick in the resulting penalty shoot out, will again deputise between the posts - giving Weir a welcome selection headache if he performs.
“I’ll have to manage that situation as I see fit, when George is back available,” Weir said.
“But of course, being in possession of the jersey has a big effect on my thinking.
“I want Mark to come in, play and do well and grasp the opportunity, and take it from there.
“I have every confidence in Mark, he’s a top goalkeeper, and it was a tough choice for the jersey between him and George at the start of the season.
“I have no problem with either of them.”
Long’s call-up to Gareth Southgate’s first England U21 squad is his second taste of international football at that level.
The 19-year-old was an unused substitute when England beat their Scottish counterparts 6-0 last month, in a match staged at Bramall Lane.
“The second call-up is justification for George and his talent,” Weir said.
“There was no doubt in my mind that George was there on merit at Bramall Lane, and he obviously impressed Roy [Hodgson, England manager] with his work.
“It’ll give George great confidence.”
Weir, who earned 69 caps for his native Scotland in an international career spanning 13 years, never made an appearance at international youth level.
But having cut his managerial teeth working with youngsters at Everton, he is well placed to observe the benefits an international call up can have on a young player.
“I don’t know myself, as I’ve never done it,” he smiled.
“But seriously, it’s a fantastic honour to represent your country at any level, but the under 21s is a serious level.
“You saw that at Bramall Lane with all the Premier League talent on show, so it’s a great positive for George.”
“It’s important to look at the positives,” Weir continued.
“George may miss the Rotherham game, but look at what it brings to the club when a young player gets a call up.
“George has come through the system as a young boy and it’s great to see him involved, and Harry has had a taste of it too. It brings a bit of kudos to the club, and gives encouragement to others at the club that it is possible to come to Sheffield United and do well.
“Harry’s had a lot of games in his short career, so has George, and we’re seeing the best of Conor Coady now.
“It shows that we’re doing things right.”
Sean McGinty, Long’s young United team-mate, will also miss the short trip to the New York Stadium after receiving a call-up to the Republic of Ireland squad who will face Germany in an U21 group six tie.
The Millers are without two key players, too, with Michael O’Connor and Kari Arnason on World Cup qualification duty with Northern Ireland and Iceland respectively.
Saturday’s game at the New York Stadium is the first league meeting between the two sides since February 2005.
They met in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy at Don Valley in 2011, and in a pre-season friendly at the NYS last season. United won both games 1-0.
United’s new co-owner, Saudi Prince Abdullah bin Mosaad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, will be at the Rotherham game.