DANNY Wilson has paid tribute to Steve Simonsen and is adamant the much maligned goalkeeper still has a major role to play in Sheffield United’s promotion tilt.
The Blades chief omitted the experienced shot-stopper from the starting line-up in the midweek victory over MK Dons, handing a home debut to teenage starlet George Long in between the sticks.
Following a series of costly mistakes against Sheffield Wednesday, Preston North End and Leyton Orient, Simonsen was forced to settle for a place on the substitutes bench as United moved up to fourth in League One after securing a nervy 2-1 win at home to the Dons thanks to strikes either side of half-time from Richard Cresswell and Matt Phillips.
Wilson, who has hinted he may delve into the emergency loan market to strengthen the goalkeeping department, praised Simonsen’s attitude after being dropped in favour of Long.
“Steve was as good as gold,” he said. “He has been very supportive towards George and that is the measure of the guy as well. He took it (the decision) well. Steve was understanding and will still have a big part to play.”
Tuesday marked the first time Long had started a league match since Wilson’s appointment at the helm. His only other appearances in the 2011/12 campaign came in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy successes at Burton Albion and Rotherham United.
Wilson informed Long, one of the stars of the United team who reached the FA Youth Cup final in May, he would start on Monday. It was only the youngster’s fourth competitive match and Wilson said he took occasion in “his stride”.
“For a 17-year-old boy to be playing for Sheffield United is an absolute magnificent achievement,” admitted Wilson. “In the first-half, I don’t think George had a save to make. He had one shot to deal with in the second-half and then he had the goal which he had no chance with. I thought George commanded his box and kicked quite well and that the boys in front of him were brilliant.
“The defence kept the strikers at bay and limited them to long range shots. George will remember this for a long time and I hope there are many more games in front of him.”
Another academy product who Wilson hailed in the wake of his side’s hard-fought success was Harry Maguire. The teenage centre-half, who recently agreed a contract extension which will keep him at Bramall Lane until 2015, marshalled the back four expertly, nullifying the threat posed by the Dons powerful front man Jabo Ibehre.
“Harry played very well against a real handful in Ibehre, who is a very strong unit but I thought Harry handled him well,” said Wilson.