SHEFFIELD UNITED: ‘Confident’ Mark Howard impresses Danny Wilson

No 1: Mark Howard has been in superb form for Sheffield United
No 1: Mark Howard has been in superb form for Sheffield United

SHEFFIELD United manager Danny Wilson has lavished praise on Mark Howard following the goalkeeper’s polished performance in the hard-fought midweek victory over Hartlepool United.

In tricky, swirling conditions at Victoria Park, Howard’s handling and shot-stopping ability came to the fore as the Blades secured a fine 2-1 win courtesy of a last-gasp winner from Leicester City loanee Paul Gallagher.

“In the last three matches, Mark has got better and better,” acknowledged Wilson. “The more games he plays, the more his confidence is growing.

“He saved a good effort in the first half and looked very confident. His concentration levels were very good.”

Howard, who started his career at Arsenal, moved to Bramall Lane in February following a short spell with Blackpool. But the 26-year-old failed to make a competitive appearance last term in United’s march to the League One play-off final, with Wilson preferring Steve Simonsen in between the sticks.

Simonsen was shown the door in the summer, leaving Howard and talented academy graduate George Long to battle it out for the number one berth. Ultimately, Wilson has favoured experience over youth, with Howard having started all of the club’s 11 matches during the 2012/13 season.

United produced a dogged, determined display to grind out the three points at second-from-bottom Hartlepool, a result which stretched their unbeaten league run to 10.

“We’ve played better than that and lost,” said Wilson. “But the most important thing is that we won and there were some very good performances out there too.

“I thought our lads at the back worked very hard. You don’t often come up against a player as experienced as Steve Howard in this division. We knew he would be a handful. Dave [Kitson] scored our opener and you can say the same about him too. If you put good crosses into the box, then he’ll get on the end of them and score.”