In a season of under-achievement so far at Sheffield United, goalkeeper George Long’s return to form has been one of the few success stories.
The Sheffield-born goalkeeper was tipped for the top when he made his Blades debut as a 17-year-old in 2011.
Five years later, and Long, now 22, has been forced to fight for the No 1 shirt at Bramall Lane.
He was even farmed out on loan to Oxford United and Motherwell over recent seasons to gain precious first-team experience.
He started in goal in manager Nigel Adkins’s first game in charge, a season-opening 4-0 loss at Gillingham on August 8, but was then dropped in favour of Mark Howard.
Three months later, Long was recalled and has been United’s first-choice goalkeeper ever since.
“You are going to get left out of the team at some point, it’s how you take that and bounce back,” said Long.
“You can’t accept it, then blame other people for whatever happened. You just have to get back on the training ground and work even harder.
“I have done that and found my way back into the team. That’s just down to hard work and putting the hours in.”
It is a work ethic the Blades need to adopt if they are to secure a play-off spot.
Four points off the top six, United travel to Fleetwood today in urgent need of a win.
“Confidence is not sky-high, but we are still a confident team, we have a lot of ability in the dressing room,” said Long.
“It’s a team that is more than capable of getting out of this league, and putting a good run of form together.”
Last six games: Fleetwood DDWLWW, Sheffield United LWLWLL.
Referee: R Clark (Northumberland).
Last time: Fleetwood 0 Sheffield United 0; November 15, 2015; JP Trophy.