SHEFFIELD UNITED: Blades seek new keeper to challenge for No 1 spot

Npower League Division One ''Sheffield United vs MK Dons ''Utd's Keeper George Long on his full blades debut
Npower League Division One ''Sheffield United vs MK Dons ''Utd's Keeper George Long on his full blades debut
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SHEFFIELD United will look to sign a goalkeeper next season, despite Danny Wilson’s admission that the position is not an immediate priority this summer.

Wilson, the United manager, told The Star last month that Mark Howard and George Long are set to battle it out for the right to become Bramall Lane’s established number one following Steve Simonsen’s departure in May.

The former Northern Ireland international’s words, later recycled by a national news organisation, have been interpreted by some as an indication that United are happy to enter the new League One campaign with just two options between the posts.

But if, as expected, former Arsenal protégé Howard gets the nod, then Wilson’s desire to send Long out on loan means he will attempt to draft-in cover should a suitable opportunity arise.

Long, aged 18, played four games last season and despite concerns about his lack of experience, is viewed as an excellent long-term prospect by United’s coaching staff.

Wilson, explaining the decision not to offer Simonsen a new contract following last season’s play-off final defeat, said: “George is at the stage where he needs regular games. Unfortunately, reserve team football can’t offer you that because the programme isn’t always consistent.

“Matches can get called-off and altered for all sorts of different reasons. Regular competition is of paramount importance for George now with regards to his development.

“Whether that is here with us or somewhere else we’ll have to see.”

Nevertheless, with United battling to comply with new financial legislation, Wilson knows he has little room for error in the transfer market.

Reinforcements at centre-forward, centre-half and full-back have been highlighted as his most pressing concerns with Jeffrey Schlupp, Stuart Beavon, Ben Parker, Gary Kenneth and David Wotherspoon among those identified as potential targets. Talks have also taken place with a Premier League club aimed at recruiting a striker on loan.

Wilson must decide who gets first chance to stake a claim for the goalkeeper’s jersey when United begin their pre-season programme at Ilkeston on July 18 before playing two games against local opposition in Malta.

They face Rotherham at New York Stadium four days after returning from their week long training camp on the Mediterranean island before completing their schedule with a fixture against Morecambe. Supporters travelling to Malta have been asked to register their accommodation and contact details at info@sufc.co.uk in order to be kept up to date with various United themed events taking place during the visit which begins on July 20. United XI’s will also face Hallam FC and Matlock Town on August 2 and August 7 respectively.