Long and short of it

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Sheffield United goalkeeper George Long insists he is happy to sacrifice personal plaudits for the ultimate goal of automatic promotion this season.

Long, United’s teenage goalkeeper who rose to prominence during the club’s FA Youth Cup campaign of 2011, will make his 30th league appearance on Saturday at Stevenage.

Despite his tender years, the 19-year-old has already been tipped for the top after a string of capable performances, since deputising for the injured Mark Howard.

“So far it’s been really good,” Long said.

“It’s been good to play week in, week out, and hopefully I can keep that going and we can push for promotion.

“You do your work on the training ground as a youngster, but there’s nothing like the experience of playing first team football.

“You definitely learn on the job as you go, and get more experienced with the more games you play.”

Long has kept six clean sheets in his last six games as United leapt into the automatic promotion places, and hasn’t conceded a goal in almost 550 minutes of first-team football.

The modest academy graduate, however, insists that record isn’t a personal one, and was quick to point out the contributions of his team-mates in front of him.

“The lads in front of me have been a massive help, both for my confidence and my development,” Long said.

“I am always willing to learn from people around me, and their experience can only help make me a better all-round goalkeeper.

“Darren Ward [goalkeeping coach] has been great, there’s always different aspects of training and video reviews, things like that, and Danny Coyne is like a second coach, so I’m in good hands. Coyney has seen it and done it, so he knows what he is talking about.”

“With all these people around me I feel I am progressing every single day,” Long added.

“With each game I play I feel I am becoming a better, more confident goalkeeper. I am more relaxed before games now and that comes with playing regularly.”

With Howard suffering a recurrance of his thigh muscle problem and expected to miss the remainder of the League One season, Long is expected to keep the gloves for a good while yet.

But even when Howard returns, Long insists he is ready to fight for the number one shirt.

“I want to play even when Mark is fit,” he said.

“Mark is a very good, experienced goalkeeper and one I can continue to learn from, and he is another one that has helped me analyse my performances after the game.

“But I would rather be playing than sitting on the bench.”

Long’s transition from academy prospect to first-team regular mirrors that of Harry Maguire, who also played in that FA Youth Cup Final against Manchester United.

The 20-year-old centre-half has since made over 80 league appearances for United, and Long said: “Harry came through the same youth team as I did and we have already had some great times together.

“That experience and knowledge of each other’s game has certainly proved to be a massive help.

“The Gaffer keeps all the lads grounded and that only helps us keep our focus. I am just delighted to have got a good run of games.”

The postponment of Tuesday evening’s game at Crewe gave Jamie Murphy and Jonathan Forte, both recovering from injuries, extra time to recover from last weekend’s draw with MK Dons.

Both are bidding to start at Broadhill Way as United look to continue their promotion push.