Actions speak louder than words and the deep gash on his arm, caused during a first-half skirmish with a water sprinkler, lent extra weight to George Long’s claim that Sheffield United are prepared to get tough in the battle for Championship football next term.
And, speaking ahead of Saturday’s visit to Scunthorpe, the former England under-20 goalkeeper insisted last weekend’s narrow victory over Coventry City could prove a turning point in the South Yorkshire club’s season.
The moment when, after making a chequered start to life under new manager Nigel Adkins, they discovered substance nearly always trumps style.
“I thought our shape against Coventry was superb,” Long said. “It was fantastic in fact.
“The lads in front of me were brilliant and really limited the opportunities Coventry had. We kept a really tight unit and that enabled us to go forward. Yes, it’s nice to win three or four nil but a one nil scoreline equals three points and, ultimately, that’s what matters. We knew Coventry like to pass the ball about and have got some flair players up top. So our game plan was to shut those down and I think it worked a treat.”
Long’s comments, combined with Adkins’ recent reminder about the importance of keeping “clean sheets” and “a solid base” suggests United are preparing to adopt a more measured approach rather than the open, expansive style the 50-year-old promised after being appointed in June.
Sunday’s performance, which delivered their first League One victory since October, could hardly be described as aesthetic. But it was, after Billy Sharp scored the only goal of the game 10 minutes from time, brutally effective.
“We’ve got brilliant players up top. There’s Billy (Sharp), Conor (Sammon) and Doney (Matt Done) who always runs himself into the ground. We know we’ve got goals in the team so, if we can keep the ball out of our net, it’s going to stand us in good stead.”
United, 11th in the table and four points behind sixth-placed Wigan Athletic, won five of their opening seven games following Adkins’ appointment before falling down the rankings as a combination of injury, inconsistent selections and individual errors took their toll.
Long, recalled to the starting eleven five weeks ago, excelled himself against City and credited a spell on loan at Motherwell last season with his own improved form.
“I’m a lot more experienced now because I’ve got a lot more game-time under my belt. I’ve played more football and found myself in different situations.
“As a ‘keeper, you know you are going to make mistakes because everybody does at some stage. That’s football. That’s life. But the most important thing is learning from them and being able to quickly move on. Nobody likes making mistakes. But you can’t fear them, as it were, either. So long as you learn.”