Nigel Clough made another big decision and, as his way, he told us why he did it.
He chose to select Mark Howard for the Fulham replay and stuck with him for the Shrewsbury match, following which he said: “Mark has been a model professional. His attitude has been superb. His contract is up in the summer, we’d not really had a look at him and we thought it was about time we did.”
Howard’s promotion did not raise a stir amongst Blades fans, for which there were a couple of reasons. The first is that he’s a perfectly capable goalkeeper and has rarely let the team down. The only real howler I can recall him making was when he dropped a simple cross against Burton in the League Cup last season. He makes the odd misjudgement, but so do Joe Hart and Petr Cech. He has waited patiently and, as Clough explained, he merits the opportunity to play because of the attitude he has shown.
The second reason is because of what Clough didn’t say. Notably, he did not mention George Long in his reasoning. The majority of Blades fans are willing to forgive whatever shortcomings Long may have because of both his age and the fact that he is ‘one of us’. There is the occasional murmur about George’s performances, but most of the time his play has ranged from good to exceptional.
The biggest weakness some perceive him to have is an uncertainty about when to come off his line. It appeared to me that United’s coaching staff have been working on this as he has been more willing to come out in recent months – but now and again he does it ill-advisedly.
None of this means that I think George should have been dropped. Not many will complain that Howard is now the No.1. When it comes down to it, perhaps Clough believes that experience is what is now required.