Long aims to keep unbeaten Blades in 
safe hands

DANNY WILSON has cited the transfusion of new blood to the Bramall Lane ranks as being instrumental in avoiding a potential hangover following their play-off heartache last season.

No-one of a Blades persuasion needs reminding of how their heroes had only tears for souvenirs following their Wembley defeat to Huddersfield Town in May – losing in the worst possible fashion via a penalty shoot-out lottery – which proved the prelude to a thoroughly miserable summer for supporters, with off-the-field cost-cutting adding to the downbeat mood.

But the black clouds have been lifted swiftly by Wilson, with the negativity dispelled to such an extent that United are currently luxuriating in their best start to a season for over 100 years.

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Wilson’s troops, in third spot in League One, have not seen their colours lowered in 11 matches in 2012-13 and are positively chipper ahead of this afternoon’s encounter with the Latics, the last team to beat them at S2 in March.

And the Blades manager has paid tribute to several summer signings, such as Nick Blackman, Tony McMahon, John Cofie and Dave Kitson, for re-energising the place in the wake of last season’s deep-seated disappointment.

Wilson said: “What the players have done is dust themselves down and got on with it again. One or two have left but some have also come in with a smile and a spring in their step because they have come to a good club.

“That freshness has helped us to get away from that disappointment at the end of last season.

“It was important we freshened it up with different faces. If we had gone in with the same players as last season, I am sure we would have got good results. But there might have been a bit of a lull in the early part of the season. It has not been the case so far, thankfully.

“We have been pretty consistent and that is down to the application of the players and that’s what it is all about.

“We lost a few players in the summer and it was difficult to replace that quality. But the ones who have come in have done really well and we are hoping they will get better as they go along.”

Despite his pride in United’s start, the last thing in the world you would expect Wilson – one of the most grounded managers on the Football League circuit – to do is bask in the glow of records, with promotion the be-all and end-all for him.

He added: “You have got to be proud of our record, long may it continue and I hope we break more records which would be terrific.

“But while it is always nice to have records, the bottom line is that we will be judged at the end of the season.

“This is a terrific club to play for and manage. Should we get success at the end of the season, this place could really take off and to be part of it would be brilliant.”

Consistency of selection has played an integral part in the Blades’ rock-solid seasonal start, but Wilson must make do without one reassuring constant of early season, Mark Howard, for the foreseeable future with the goalkeeper possibly out for the remainder of this year with a thigh injury.

But one man’s misfortune is another’s opportunity, with England Under-18s prospect George Long desperate to make a lasting impression, according to Wilson, who is investing plenty of faith in the highly-rated goalkeeper, handed a long-term deal by the club in February.

Wilson said: “We do have great faith in George and I know he cannot wait to get started as he has been chomping at the bit – even last season – to play.

“But he is a little bit more experienced now and the way he performed at Leyton Orient gives us great faith.

“He is a very confident boy and such a likeable lad as well. He is terrific in training and the lads as a group – and I am sure they would say this themselves – have got the utmost respect for him.

“That’s even though he is very close to injuring some of them, because he is so wholehearted in the way he trains. But he is a very determined lad and I see big things for him in the future.

“He can be as good as anything that is around at this moment. He has bags of potential.

“But we will not be putting any pressure on him and just want to help in his development and first-team games certainly give him that.”

Neill Collins remains a doubt with a foot injury, with Wilson monitoring the fitness of loan striker Cofie.

Last six games: Sheff U WWDWDD; Oldham WWLLDD.

Last time: Sheff U 2 Oldham 3; Sat March 3, 2012; League One.

Referee: S Mathieson (Cheshire).

SkyBet odds: Sheff U to win 4-7; Oldham to win 9-2; Draw 3-1.