NEILL COLLINS is ultra-confident fellow Blades centre-half Harry Maguire will avoid second-season syndrome in 2012-13 – and has revealed he had a chat with him about the pitfalls in the summer.
Collins, fit again following a foot infection which required a six-day hospital stay, antibiotics and a minor operation to clear is hoping to resume his partnership with Maguire in the heart of the back four at old club Preston today – and has lavished praise on the young defender’s start to the campaign after a breakthrough 2011-12.
On league ever-present Maguire, 19, who hit a brace in the Blades’ emphatic 4-1 Johnstone’s Paint Trophy win at Notts County on Wednesday, Collins said: “There is more responsibility on Harry this season because the expectations are so much higher after he played so well last year.
“But Harry is doing absolutely fine. He has had a good start to the season. He has been asked a lot of for someone so young to play week-in, week-out and he is doing exceptionally well.
“As long as he keeps doing that and progressing, learning and listening to people like Frank Barlow, the gaffer and Morgs (Chris Morgan), he will keep improving.
“I remember speaking to him in pre-season about the second season being so much tougher because he did get a lot of plaudits (last year) and rightly so. But then people expect almost more than that and there are so much more ups and downs in the second season.
“He listened to that and knows that and Harry is a good lad. If he makes a mistake, he knows he is learning and if he does something really good, he knows you can get kicked in the teeth just around the corner. But he’s a credit to the young boys and a great role model to them.
On returning to the fray, the Scot said: “It was disappointing to miss some games and it is something I could have done without, but I am glad it is all cleared up now.”
The Blades are yet to taste defeat in League One so far this term, but Collins feels today’s test at Graham Westley’s eighth-placed Preston will be their most tricky so far this term.
He said: “Going to Deepdale is always tough, I think this is the toughest test we’ve had this season.”
Blades manager Danny Wilson says he is still looking for goalkeeping cover despite the impressive form of teenager George Long.
The 18-year-old Sheffield-born prospect has earned rave reviews since filling the void left by Mark Howard’s thigh muscle injury but Wilson is adopting a cautious approach to Long’s exposure in the first team.
Howard is expected to be out of action for at least 10 weeks, leaving the Blades short on back-up.
On the continuing hunt for another goalkeeper, Wilson added: “We are still looking around but we won’t make a decision before the weekend.
“We need to bring someone in. George Long looks like he has matured into a man and is ready but we must remember he is still only 18-years-old and we need some experience.”