THE circumstances on Tuesday night meant no-one was in the mood for celebration, but Sam Long hit a major milestone for Oxford United against Crewe Alexandra.

It was the defender from Bicester’s 100th game for the club, in what is a triumph for perseverance.

The gap since his debut – more than seven and a half years – says it all.

While a couple of lengthy injuries have hampered Long’s progress, appearances have tended to be hard-won.

But there is a reason successive managers have kept the 25-year-old around and the model professional has steadily honed his game.

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Three-quarters of his appearances have come under boss Karl Robinson, who recently made it clear Long would be part of his plans while he was in charge at United.

“Sam’s a credit to himself, first and foremost,” the head coach said.

“He can look himself in the mirror every day and he can’t put in any more effort than he does.

“He generally comes off the pitch and understands the mistakes he makes, but they are never through a lack of effort.

“In terms of effort, he’s probably the No 1 in our club.

“He never lets me down, he’s Mr Reliable.”

That attitude has meant while other academy graduates have dropped down the leagues, Long was a regular in a side which went all the way to the Sky Bet League One play-off final in July.

It was as a right back, but this season he has been arguably United’s most consistent performer when playing in the heart of defence.

That versatility has perhaps prevented him from reaching the century of games sooner, but is a trait which Robinson appreciates hugely.

He said: “He can play left back, right back, centre back. If he has to go in midfield, he can run around in there.

“He’d go in goal for you without asking a question.

“He’s a manager’s dream in the squad to have and he deserves it.

“They have been 100 hard-earned appearances, which shows you the type of person he is.”

Josh Ruffels was the previous Oxfordshire-born player to hit 100 appearances.

He had a similar wait to establish himself, but the pair have been playing alongside each other this term.

Ruffels said: “He’s a great lad and every time he’s played he has had to fight for his position.

“He’s been outstanding this season and it’s been great to see him thriving.

“Another 100 would be nice to see for him.”