SAM Long knows how to respond to setbacks – his summer has been full of them.

The right back injured his hamstring in Oxford United’s 4-0 win over Burton Albion on the final day of last season, ruling him out of the Sky Bet League One play-offs.

He then caught Covid in July, disrupting his preparations for the new campaign, before a calf problem further delayed his return.

Long finally made his comeback as a late substitute against Wycombe Wanderers a fortnight ago, started against Cheltenham Town last weekend and is set to feature in today’s clash with Gillingham (3pm).

The 26-year-old has had a tough few months, but keeping the right mindset was key.

“It’s been frustrating,” he said.

“The start of the season wasn’t what I wanted on a personal note, but it’s something that I dealt with as best as I could.

“I’m just thankful to be back around the boys and back in the squad.

“You’ve always got to be positive, if you’re not then you’ll really struggle.

“With the injuries last year, having Covid and then my calf it was just one thing after another.

“It probably all rolled into one.”

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The academy graduate’s illness and injuries came after his best season at United, when he scored six times in 44 games – both career highs – and was named fans’ and players player of the year.

His late double against today’s opponents at the Kassam Stadium in April proved crucial as United won six of their last seven matches to reach the play-offs.

And Long reckons that experience will serve the U’s well as they look to end a four-game winless run.

“I was saying to the guys that you need to stay positive, because if you dwell on it too much you end up losing two, three, four games in a row and you’re in an even worse position,” he said.

“We proved that last year, when we lost to Accrington everyone thought the season was done.

“We bounced back and proved people wrong.

“It stems from the staff as well, they drill it into us and guide us through that and make us believe we can go on runs.

“As a group we experienced so many negative results at the start of last year, then went on that nine-game winning run.

“We proved we’re capable of doing that.

“Obviously that doesn’t happen very often, but knowing we can put runs like that together will keep anyone positive.”

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Long’s goals in last season’s fixture sparked delirious scenes among players and staff, but United could not share the moment with their supporters with games still behind closed doors.

The defender said: “Looking back, it was probably one of the biggest things.

“I just wish we had that crowd there to celebrate with them.

“You get one or two times in a season with that sort of elation after scoring a late winner and it was a shame that they weren’t there.”