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Long content to make way when Oxford United's senior players return
Sam Long will be happy to sacrifice his place in the Oxford United side if one of their experienced defenders is fit to play against promotion rivals Rochdale this weekend.
The 19-year-old centre back has had to be patient this season and was finally handed a first career start on Saturday.
He handled the step-up well at Morecambe, who hit back in stoppage time to claim a 1-1 draw.
The opportunity arose because United’s defensive resources were stretched by injuries to captain Jake Wright and Michael Raynes, Tom Newey’s suspension and Matt Bevans needing a rest.
Long’s performance puts him in the frame to keep the shirt in a crunch game at fellow high-fliers Rochdale.
Both Wright and Raynes “have a chance” of returning to fitness in time, according to caretaker manager Mickey Lewis.
But while Long would love to play, the centre back from Bicester puts the team first and is keen to see the injured players return, even though they would take his place.
He said: “I’ve waited, but I’ve supported whoever has been in the side before.
“Hopefully, Raynesey and Jake are back to strengthen the side and we can push on to get automatic promotion, which is our aim.”
Long’s selection was a milestone for United.
It was the 50th appearance in the first team this season for a member of the development squad, which was formed last summer to nurture young talent.
Josh Ruffels, who came on as a late substitute at Morecambe, accounts for almost half that figure, but Long feels all six youngsters have made a contribution.
He said: “All the boys have done well. Everyone has chipped in and helped each other out.
“We are a tight group, but whenever they have come into the first team they have done really well, so it was nice to have my turn.”
United are not in action tonight and will instead be hoping other sides can do them a favour.
Five of the top seven sides in Sky Bet League Two are playing their games in hand on the U’s.
l JONATHAN Henly, the goalkeeper on loan from Reading, has been selected for the Scotland U21 squad for next week’s game against Hungary at Dundee.
The squad does not assemble until Sunday, so he will not miss any games for United.