At the start of this season, Shane Long was left in a state of dismay. With West Brom happy to let the striker leave on transfer deadline day to Hull after looking to recruit new strikers, Long would presumably have felt like he was unwanted at The Hawthorns.
However, after the deal broke down due to the deadline passing, the Tipperary man was left in an awkward position at the club. After the Baggies signed Victor Anichebe for a club-record fee as well as French veteran Nicholas Anelka and former Sunderland star Stephan Sessegnon for their attack, Long must have felt like his position in the pecking order had dropped significantly.
He would have been correct. Long struggled for fitness and form and failed to feature on a regular basis for the club. When he did, it was either as a substitute or on the flanks. Desperate to become the Republic Of Ireland’s main striker, Long would have been forgiven to have felt aggrieved after being the club's top goal scorer in the previous campaign.
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 Jose Mourinho’s side and topped it off with a strong overall performance.
Long maintained his goalscoring 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 against Aston Villa at The Hawthorns. He needed a performance and he provided one to a devastating effect by scoring two magnificent goals. His first oozed pure quality.
Magnificently bringing 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 Aston 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.
It is plain to see that Long is a confidence striker. On his day, he’s a hardworking, pacy 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 spoke of his ambition to become a key figure for Ireland in the aftermath of the Latvia game.
An out-and-out goalscorer is much needed in the Ireland squad at the moment, with Robbie Keane coming into the twilight of his playing career. Many believe that Long can be the man to fulfil the position.
On Long, West Brom's supporter Del Delaney said: “On his day, he’s as 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 definitely 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 Premier League, which is essential to his international career.
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