Blades in safe hands with teenager Long

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TEENAGE goalkeeper George Long has been told that he is now the No 1 at Sheffield United.

Long, 17, keeps his place in goal for today’s game against Exeter City after being preferred to the out-of-form Steve Simonsen against Milton Keynes Dons in midweek.

Manager Danny Wilson says the shirt is Long’s to keep or lose and has every confidence in his ability.

“It was the right decision to bring in George and take Simmo out of the firing line,” said Wilson.

“He may only be 17 but George is an older man in terms of being strong both physically and mentally.”

Long, one of the stars of the side that reached last season’s FA Youth Cup final against Manchester United, was already the youngest goalkeeper to play for the Blades in a league game after making his debut on the final day of last season against Swansea City ,aged 17 years and 183 days.

The England Under-18 international had played two games this season in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy before getting the nod in midweek.

“It was a big call to make,” reflected Wilson. “But I think Simmo needed to get away from the flak.

“We didn’t want to be in the position where, if he was in goal, the crowd were waiting for him to make his first mistake and Simmo was waiting for that first criticism. That would have put a downer on the whole game.

“A 17-year-old boy playing in goal for Sheffield United is a magnificent achievement and that lifts the rest of the team,” he added about the club’s 6ft 4ins prospect, who has been with them since the age of nine.

“He is not fazed at all for a young kid and takes it all in his stride.

“He didn’t have too many saves to make against MK Dons because the boys in front of him were great but he commanded his box well and he kicked very well.

“Simmo has also been very supportive to George this week and that’s a measure of the guy.

“He understands the situation and he will still have a part to play this season,” said Wilson, who admits the club are still searching the market for goalkeeping cover as he aims to build a squad capable of sustaining a promotion challenge.