Sheffield United: Long may George remain Blades No 1

England Under-21 international George Long.
England Under-21 international George Long.
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Sheffield United boss Nigel Clough has dismissed any prospect of dropping goalkeeper George Long as the troubled League One club bid to tighten up their leaky rearguard.

Clough blamed the young shot-stopper for Gillingham’s winner last weekend, a result which the Blades in the relegation zone, two points shy of safety.

Nonetheless, the United chief has given Long his full backing, claiming the 20-year-old will learn from his blunder. Although Clough has Mark Howard patiently waiting in the wings, he insists Long remains his first-choice goalkeeper.

Speaking ahead of their trip to Bristol City, Clough said: “When we came in, George was number one and we don’t see any reason to change that. He made an error last week. It was a misjudgement for Gillingham’s second goal but you watch the Premier League and you see goalkeepers making mistakes every week just the same. Look at Joe Hart right now. He has made a few mistakes and going through a period where he has got to build up his confidence again.

“We try to be quite loyal. We don’t want players thinking if they make one mistake they are out of the team. We don’t want that sort of fear running through the team.

“We look more at the overall picture at how they are performing in training.”

While Long was at fault for Cody McDonald’s strike, Harry Maguire, his teammate, came in for criticism after under-hitting his back pass to Long.

“George and Harry are two young players,” insisted Clough. “They are still only 20-years-old. They will make the odd mistake. If they get to 24 and have got a couple of hundred league games under their belts and they are still making mistakes, then it is something to worry about.”

United’s experienced players and the club’s backroom staff have helped lift Long and Maguire’s spirits in training, says Clough.

“We have encouraged them [Maguire and Long] and you rely on the senior players to do the same because they have been through it,” he said. “They know what it is like. It is part of their job to help them through it.

“I thoughtHarry was affected after he gave away the goal on Saturday. He recovered well in the second half. It is something he will have to learn to deal with.

“I remember Paul Ince saying last season that his lad missed a penalty in the first minute and it affected him for the rest of the game. Paul told him afterwards ‘if you go into the Premier League, you can’t afford to let it affect you.’ Once you’ve made a mistake, you’ve just got to get on with the rest of the game.”

Former United boss Danny Wilson has been installed as the early favourite to replace Brian Laws as the next Scunthorpe United manager, according to Sky Bet.