It is safe to assume Sheffield United shot-stopper George Long will enjoy tucking into his Christmas turkey tomorrow after recording three successive clean sheets in all competitions.
The prodigiously talented goalkeeper has rediscovered his best form in recent weeks and cemented his place in manager Nigel Clough’s starting line-up.
Off the pitch, Long, a graduate of the club’s fabled youth system, is a chatty, friendly individual. Like several members of United’s first-team squad, the 20-year-old paid a special visit to Weston Park Hospital, Sheffield, last week. He met numerous patients and handed out a variety of presents to help spread some festive cheer.
“It was a great day out for the lads and we all really enjoyed putting a smile on the patients faces and giving a few presents out,” he told The Star. “Everybody was really happy to see us. It is nice to come and visit and give something back to the people and the fans. Not all the patients were United fans but they seemed happy to see us.
“It definitely puts things into perspective.”
Clough has chosen to give his squad Christmas Day off. Although the team will not training at Shirecliffe, they will be expected to watch what they eat and drink as the League One outfit prepare for a Bramall Lane double-header with Oldham Athletic and Tranmere Rovers later this week.
Long said: “You can’t enjoy Christmas as much as your family can but it is a small price to pay for doing a great job. You can’t complain at all.”
The strength and depth of Clough’s squad will come under the microscope during the gruelling Christmas schedule. United will play four matches in the space of 10 days.
“It is a busy period as the games come thick and fast,” acknowledged Long. “Everybody is really positive at the moment. We have got a solid base and the strikers are starting to fire more.
“It is vital that we get as many wins as we can over Christmas. We have got some tough fixtures coming up but we are more than capable of coming out of this period with a healthy points return. We want to get as many wins as we can and hopefully keep our run going.
“The players are getting used to the manager’s methods and the lads are buzzing. He [Clough] has changed bits and bobs. He has put his own touch on the team and got us playing how he likes football to be played and the lads have bought into that.”
Clough wants Long to command his area better.
“We are trying to address Geroge’s communication in training,” he said. “We are working very closely with Darren Ward, the goalkeeping coach, on that.
“George has got a lot of experience for his age but goalkeepers don’t really mature until they are 27 or 28. He has got plenty of football ahead of him and plenty of learning to do.”