GEORGE Long will start the season as Michael Appleton’s first-choice goalkeeper, but the Oxford United head coach says Max Crocombe is firmly in his plans.
The Sky Bet League Two campaign kicks off this weekend, with Burton Albion visiting the Kassam Stadium.
United are without long-standing No 1 Ryan Clarke, who will miss the opening weeks as he recovers from a foot operation.
His absence prompted Appleton to bring in Long on loan last month as cover to compete for the jersey with Crocombe.
Although the Sheffield United player is three months younger, he has 80 senior games under his belt, compared to Crocombe’s four first-team appearances.
It was the key factor for the U’s boss, who has been impressed with the Yorkshireman in pre-season.
He said: “I think the thing with George is he’s got bags of experience over the last two years playing at a higher level.
“I felt he’s acquitted himself really well.”
Long played every minute of United’s two main pre-season games against Wolves and Bournemouth.
In the 4-1 defeat to the Cherries, the 20-year-old had a couple of nervous moments coming out of his area to deal with through balls.
But Appleton was keen to encourage the tactic, which will come in useful against some opponents this season.
He said: “George got caught a couple of times doing the right thing by playing really high.
“We’re going to come up against sides where they hit us on the counterattack and he’ll need to be off his line quicker.
“I’d rather see someone being positive and making a mistake than have a negative attitude and want to sit on the line and have it cost us.”
It is unfortunate for Crocombe, who has been United’s back-up goalkeeper for the last two seasons.
Appleton made it clear the New Zealand U20 international remains a valued member of the squad and urged him to maintain high standards.
He said: “Max has got to go and compete with George and make life difficult for him.
“At the end of the day if George doesn’t perform and Max is still at it, then he will get his chance.”
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