SHEFFIELD UNITED manager Nigel Adkins has praised goalkeeper George Long after his long-awaited return to League One action.
The 22-year-old former Blades Academy youngster had not played in the league since the opening day of the season after a crushing 4-0 loss to Gillingham.
In came the experienced Mark Howard, who impressed enough to keep the No 1 shirt.
But after back-to-back clean sheets in cup outings against Worcester City and Fleetwood Town, Long was given the nod to face Southend on Saturday.
He could do little about Southend’s two goals – the first a superb long-range effort from Ryan Leonard after Long had punched clear, and the second a smart, low finish from Jack Payne.
Long impressed with his catching and distribution to leave Adkins satisfied in his choice to stick with the former England Under-18 goalkeeper. “He kept two clean sheets in the week, and I see him every day on the training ground,” said Adkins.
“I thought he had a great game. For the first goal, under pressure, he punched it well outside the penalty area. He was diving back and, after a great punch, he could not really save the goal.
“The second goal was a great strike from Payne.
“I thought George kicked the ball well, he looked commanding, came and caught the ball and punched well. He had a good game.”
Long spent spells on loan last season at Oxford United and Motherwell in the Scottish Premiership.
After having his confidence dented by shipping four goals in August at Gillingham, Saturday was a welcome stepping stone in Long’s attempt to take back the No 1 spot.
“It’s another step up from the character point of view,” said Adkins. “In the second half, he came out amongst the bodies and took a great catch. The supporters gave him a great round of applause. That’s a big thing for George.
“The first game of the season didn’t work out, and it’s how we keep building up those levels of confidence. George was excellent on Saturday.
“He works really hard on the training ground, has an excellent goalkeeping coach in Darren Ward and has had to wait for his opportunity. I thought it was right to play him and he did well.”