Mark Howard should start in goal for Sheffield United this season, according to Bramall Lane great Keith Edwards.
It was just over a week ago Blades manager David Weir told this newspaper that he was still unsure who should get the nod in between the sticks.
Long, hoping to be included in the England Under-21 international squad who face Scotland in a friendly at Bramall Lane next month, started in last Friday’s entertaining draw with Greek Super League side Atromitos FC.
But Howard, who started last term as the team’s undisputed number one before relinquishing that mantle after sustaining a serious muscle injury in October, played against York City in United’s final warm-up match 24 hours later.
Ex-United striker Edwards, the scorer of nearly 150 league goals during spells at the club in both the 1970s and 80s, thinks Howard deserves a chance to prove his credentials, starting at home to Notts County in their League One curtain-raiser tomorrow.
“If Mark is fully fit and had a good pre-season, I would pick him,” Edwards told The Star. “Some people might say that’s harsh but that’s life.
“As much as I like George, experience in a goalkeeper is vital. They all get better as they get older.
“It is good to see a young keeper such as George coming through but, in that particular position, I would be very tempted to go with experience over youth. I don’t think there is a great deal between George and Mark.”
Edwards, now a matchday radio summariser, expects United to mount a serious promotion challenge under rookie boss Weir.
“If we do not finish in the top six, it will be hugely disappointing with the strength of the squad we have got,” he said. “Even from the point of view that we have got a new manager, I still think that the top six is not asking a great deal. I have seen the division for the last two seasons and there will be half a dozen teams who will struggle and 10 to 14 sides that are very average.
“We have got to prove ourselves and show that we are better than the rest.”