After spending most of the past six months watching from the sidelines, George Long appeared to be facing a bleak future at Bramall Lane.
But, now has brought back in from the cold following the departure of Aaron Ramsdale, the Sheffield United goalkeeper is being backed to make the most of his unexpected reprieve.
“George’s attitude has been first class, absolutely first class, all the way through his time out,” manager Chris Wilder said.
“There was a lot of talk about Aaron and what has happened opens a door for George. He’s worked hard in training and showed the right attitude.”
Long lost his place in United’s starting 11 following Simon Moore’s arrival in August and, having initially taken the demotion badly, suffered a further setback when Ramsdale was named as the 26-year-old’s deputy.
Wilder, who was less than impressed when Long duly asked to explore his options during a private one-to-one talk, nevertheless praised the youngster’s work ethic whenever the opportunity arose.
When Ramsdale joined AFC Bournemouth on transfer deadline day, that proved to be an astute move.
Despite suffering a crisis of confidence earlier this season - although he was by no means the only United player to under-perform - Long remains a talented young player and returned to the bench for last weekend’s win over AFC Wimbledon. Like Ramsdale, another graduate of the League One club’s Steelphalt Academy, he has been capped by England at youth level and, with over 150 senior appearances on his CV, is more experienced.
Long has some bridges to build with sections of United’s support following his erratic displays at the beginning of the campaign, bu the team’s league position and Wilder’s assertion that “we don’t do scapegoats” should help the process.
“Things can change pretty quickly,” Wilder said. “Jake Eastwood, who is also a good young goalkeeper, was possibly ahead of Aaron in the pecking order a year ago. That just goes to show how things can change.”