Sheffield United: Battle for blades no.1 spot

Sheffield United manager Nigel Clough celebrates with George Long after the FA Cup Third Round match at Villa Park, Birmingham.
Sheffield United manager Nigel Clough celebrates with George Long after the FA Cup Third Round match at Villa Park, Birmingham.
0
Have your say

George Long and Mark Howard will be handed the chance to stake their claims for the Sheffield United No.1 jersey during the club’s pre-season campaign, Nigel Clough has confirmed.

But the United boss also admitted that whichever goalkeeper starts the season as his second choice will be allowed to leave Bramall Lane, albeit on a temporary basis.

“George and Mark are both good goalkeepers and we have confidence in both,” Clough said.

“But if you are a substitute ‘keeper then your chances of playing can be limited.

“It’s not like being an outfield player in that regard.

“It would be better for both of them, whoever gets the nod, to be playing. It would be better for us if that was the case as well.

“The plan is to get one of them out on loan as we’ve got George Willis, who has shown what he can do for the academy and under-21s, for cover on the bench for Mark or George.”

Long, a graduate of the club’s Redtooth Academy, began the season as United’s No.1 under Clough’s predecessor, David Weir.

But after Howard was recalled for United’s FA Cup win away at Fulham, he kept the gloves and enjoyed a run of eight clean-sheets in a row as United reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup and finished seventh in the League One table.

Long, a 20-year-old England Under-21 international, has already been the subject of tentative loan enquiries - but Clough will not make his decision until after United’s pre-season programme, which kicks off next Saturday at his old club Burton Albion’s Pirelli Stadium (3pm).

n Clough, meanwhile, insists that no fresh approaches have been made for in-demand defender Harry Maguire.

United rejected bids in the region of £1m and £1.5m for Maguire from Championship new-boys Hull last month, while Premier League side Hull - United’s conquerors in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley - are also known to be keen.

But Clough said: “I’m in contact with [managing director] Mal Brannigan every day and he keeps me up to date. He tells me there’s nothing new to report on that.

“We’ve had some bids, but they didn’t meet our valuation of Harry and until then, there’s no decision to make.

“He’s been back for pre-season and he’s been fine. We’re planning to have him around for the start of the season.”