Of all the players in Sheffield United’s team, George Long is probably best placed to assess the impact of its new 3-5-2 formation.
After all, as the former England under-20 international admitted, if goalkeepers are being forced to make umpteen saves a game then something, somewhere, is going very wrong indeed.
After spending much of the season showcasing his talents far more frequently than either he or manager Nigel Adkins would have liked, Long’s opportunities for self aggrandisement have thankfully proven more limited in recent weeks as United’s first team squad gets to grips with its manager’s latest tactical switch.
The improvement has probably come too late to save this season but, as Long told The Star ahead of Saturday’s game against Chesterfield, it at least raises hopes for the next.
“Defensively, things have really tightened up,” Long said. “Making one or two saves a game is what you want as a goalkeeper. Obviously it’s nice of you’re making loads but then, at the same time, that means something is going wrong in front of you. Something clearly isn’t right.”
“The last few weeks we’ve been performing really well,” Long added. “The new formation, with the wing-backs, has been working really well. Bash (Chris Basham) is a brilliant outlet, he gives us a great out ball and the three centre-halves have been really solid. Brilliant in fact.”
Together with Long, Basham has arguably been the greatest beneficiary of Adkins’ decision to change the way United approach games although, as the 22-year-old explained, Jay McEveley, Alex Baptiste and David Edgar have all contributed to the team’s improved displays of late with three clean sheets recorded in its last six games.
“The gaffer and his team have been working on it during training and it’s been working well in games so, obviously, if something is working well then you stick with it. Hopefully, we can build on it too. I think it suits quite a few of the lads, the qualities they’ve got. The wing-backs have been great and, like I say, the centre-halves so solid.”
“Mentally, it can be tougher when you don’t have much to do,” Long added. “But you’ve got to stay in touch with the game by talking, organising and moving with what’s going on. Always communicating and staying switched on. I think that’s an area where I’ve improved.”