Sheffield United: Clough explains his ‘number one’ decision

Sheffield United manager Nigel Clough says Mark Howard will start the season as his first-choice goalkeeper
Sheffield United manager Nigel Clough says Mark Howard will start the season as his first-choice goalkeeper
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Sheffield United manager Nigel Clough has shed further light on his decision to assure Mark Howard he will begin next season as the club’s first choice goalkeeper, writes James Shield.

But Clough, who yesterday outlined plans to extend George Long’s contract despite inviting Motherwell to renew the 21-year-old’s loan, told Howard it would be a mistake to believe his status guaranteed a regular starting role.

Mark Howard saves from the penalty spot against Swindon Town � copyright : Blades Sports Photography

Mark Howard saves from the penalty spot against Swindon Town � copyright : Blades Sports Photography

“Yes, we know he cost us a few in the last couple (of games),” Clough said. “But over the course of the season Mark has been very solid.

“There’s a danger you just focus on the last month of the season and consider who was playing well then.

“Admittedly, that’s the most important time but you’ve also got to assess the whole thing, all the way through, too.”

United, last term’s beaten play-off semi-finalists, are expected to recruit cover for Howard ahead of the 2015/16 League One campaign if Long returns to Fir Park when his temporary agreement with Ian Baraclough’s side expires.

George Long is highly-rated by Sheffield United manager Nigel Clough � BLADES SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY

George Long is highly-rated by Sheffield United manager Nigel Clough � BLADES SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY

Clough is adamant the former England under-18 international, who also represented his country at the 2013 FIFA under-20 World Cup, has a long-term future with United but would prefer him to remain north of the border until January rather than deputise for Howard.

“Mark knows, the same as everyone else, that he’s going to have to maintain good performance levels to stay in,” Clough added. “But he’s also earned his place by doing exactly that.”

Twitter: @JamesShield1

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Mark Howard following Sheffield United's final home game of the regular season � copyright : Blades Sports Photography

Mark Howard following Sheffield United's final home game of the regular season � copyright : Blades Sports Photography