OPINION – Playing the ‘Long’ game

Credit Birminghammail.co.uk

Credit birminghammail.co.uk

At the start of this season Shane Long was left in a state of dismay. With West Brom happy to let the player leave on transfer deadline day to Hull all the while recruiting new strikers, Long would have certainly felt like he was unwanted at the Hawthorne’s.

The deal subsequently broke down due to the deadline passing, the Tipperary man was left in an awkward position at the club.

After the ‘Baggies’ signed Victor Aniechibe for a club record fee as well as French veteran Nicholas Anelka and Sunderland star Stephen Sessengon for their attack, Long must have certainly felt his position in the pecking order had dropped significantly, he would have been correct.

He struggled for fitness and form but failed to feature on a regular basis for the club. When he did it was as a substitute or on the flanks.

Desperate to become the Republic Of Ireland’s main striker, Long would have been allowed to feel aggrieved after being the clubs top goal scorer in the previous campaign. He would now have to prove to Clarke that he was still central to the clubs development. Frustration was also apparent on an international scale as Long was dropped from the starting line up by interim manager, Noel King.

A turning point for Long was certainly his performance against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge after he converted a good header against Mourinho’s side, topped with a strong overall performance. Long maintained his goal scoring form with a well-placed finish in the Republic of Ireland’s victory over Latvia.

With a lot of hard work put in place, Long was granted the opportunity to start in last night’s Midlands Derby at Villa park, he needed a performance and he provided one to a devastating effect by scoring two magnificent goals. His first oozed pure quality. Magnificently touching down a direct pass with his right foot, he then fired in a powerful low shot with his left. His second goal was a mark of a confident striker. Long was like a man possessed for the remainder of the game, showing for every ball, chasing down lost causes and battling with the Villa defence for every opportunity. His persistence paid off after closing down the Villa defence, he intercepted a poor pass, defeated a defender and chipped it over Brad Guzan demonstrating his class. It was a performance which received much appraisal from his manager Steve Clarke who said after the game,

“Shane’s been working hard for that type of performance he’s in a good moment, strikers are like that, they like the ball set in the back of the net… The second goal came because he reads the game well, her reacted to an under hit pass from the Villa defence and he pounced on it and it was another really, really terrific finish so it’s good for Shane, he’s been in a good run of form for us and hopefully he can keep it going.”

It is plain to see that Long is a confidence striker. On his day he’s a hardworking, fast finisher who is ruthless in front of goal, but when things aren’t going his way he can often become petulant and frustrated. A determined Long, speaking to RTÉ spoke of his ambition to become a key figure for Ireland in the aftermath of the Latvia game saying,

“I’ve only started in the competitive games in the last year of Trapattoni’s campaign so hopefully I can force my issue and get into the gaffer’s though for the qualifiers.”

An out and out goal scorer is much needed in the Republic Ireland squad at the moment with Robbie Keane coming into the twilight of his playing career. Many believe Long can be the man to fulfil the position. Speaking to News Anois today was West Bromwich Albion’s head of supporters club, Del Delaney who said,

“On his day he’s a good a centre forward that I’ve seen at the club. He’s got all of the attributes you need to be a top centre forward. He’s definetly restored himself as our main man after last night’s performance and I think that if he maintains that kind of form then we will be lucky to hold onto him after the January window.”

For Long to take his game to the next level, consistency is crucial instead of random moments of brilliance.

One thing is for sure, if Long maintains this level of form then he will certainly become one of the most feared strikers in the premiership, which is essential to his international career.

Darragh Collins 

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Poland vs. Ireland preview

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Credit FAI’s Facebook

IT is not so long ago that Irish fans invaded the Polish city of Poznan en masse. It will be a far cry from the scenes of Euro 2012 tonight. Only a few hundred Irish fans are expected to travel to Poznan to see their team face off against Poland.

The excitement surrounding the Martin O’Neill appointment was only heightened after an impressive 3-0 victory over Latvia. Ireland played with an adventure and abandon that had not being seen under the Giovanni Trappatoni era.

O’Neill is expected to experiment for the clash with Poland as he surveys his options for Euro 2016. Robbie Keane is definitely out of the game with an Achilles injury. However Ireland is not the only side under a new regime.

Poland’s World Cup campaign was dismal as they only finished above Moldova and San Marino. They won only 3 of their 10 matches. In addition to that they conceded 12 goals in that time.

Since then Waldemar Fornalik has been sacked as manager and has been replaced by Adam Nawalka. In contrast to O’Neill’s reign with Ireland, Nawalka’s era as Poland manager got off to a disaster.

They were comfortably beaten 2-0 at home by Slovakia and were lucky it was not more as the Slovak’s spurned a number of guilt edged opportunities.

They are not without their star performers, however. Their goalkeeper, Artur Boruc, has been in impressive form. This season he has only conceded 5 goals in 11 games for his club side Southampton. It is the lowest of any club in the English Premiership.

Furthermore, in Robert Lewandowski they have one of the best strikers in the world. He is the highest scorer in the German Bundesliga so far this year with nine goals. In addition to this he has scored 18 times in 56 games for Poland.

The Polish have not scored in their last 3 games but with a revamped Irish defence to take to the field tonight that could well change.

As both sides continue to develop under their respective new regimes we can see goals. Poland only lost once at home in their qualifying campaign. Ireland though is rejuvenated under Martin O’Neill.  A draw is the most likely result tonight.

Indeed that result would be a far cry from what occurred at Euro 2012 too.

John Lillis