By George, the young lad has most definitely got it

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SOMETIMES everything just falls into place.

Clicks like a pair of double-jointed fingers. Happens when all the evidence suggests it should not.

George Long, Sheffield United’s teenage goalkeeper, has defied conventional footballing wisdom since being thrust into the team three weeks ago. And, as his save towards the end of last Saturday’s League One encounter at Preston North End proved, defied the laws of gravity and physics too.

Long, aged 18, supposedly required a spell on loan elsewhere to fulfil his potential.

Be granted an opportunity to drop the odd clanger far away from the glare of Bramall Lane’s spotlight before returning to stake a claim for a first-team place.

Instead, as those who follow South Yorkshire’s sporting beat will be aware, the youngster has made the transition from bench to big time with ease.

Two blocks, against Graham Westley’s men and Walsall respectively, would have graced any seasoned professional’s CV.

However, it must be remembered that Long is still far from the finished article.

Indeed, it maybe that his biggest test is yet to come.

The England youth international’s performances have been so good he could start believing his own hype.

Soaring confidence when not combined with concentration and focus can lead to serious miscalculations.

How will Long cope when his aura of invincibility is punctured?

Pretty damn well, the evidence would suggest.

Not everything, though, is rosy in United’s garden.

Long has blossomed against a backdrop of discontent regarding the club’s refusal to draft in cover until Mark Howard recovers from a torn muscle in his thigh. It is not, as this column discussed last week, simply the availability of funding which influences policy in the transfer market.

The implementation of new financial measures, including the Salary Cost Management Protocol, means Football League members must now give even greater consideration to how and when it is spent.

United, perhaps surprisingly, apparently passed their first SCMP audit earlier this term. Slipped under the cut-off point for salary expenditure.

Not, I’m guessing, by much. But no mean achievement nonetheless.

Yes, as some folk have since pointed out, United’s turnover should dwarf most of those reported by their third-tier rivals.

But a few commentators have failed to grasp several important points. Including how this inevitably skews the bargaining process during negotiation with prospective new players and the sheer complexity of the contracts many subsequently sign.

Long’s recent form has persuaded United to leave themselves some room for manoeuvre on the wage bill rather than skirt the 65 per cent mark.

A risky policy given that, while funds will be released for a replacement should Long suffer an injury during training, it makes no provision for what might happen if he was forced off during a game.

What is certain, though, is that United will be in a much stronger position when Howard is declared available for selection. Because, quite clearly, Wilson now has two keepers capable of anchoring their back four at his disposal.

Not one proven operator and one unknown quantity.