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Saturday 3 December 2016

Long injury an added worry for boss O'Neill

Shane Long is stretchered off against Poland last Sunday
Shane Long is stretchered off against Poland last Sunday

As he packs his bags this weekend for that trip to Switzerland for Sunday's Euro 2016 play-off draw, Martin O'Neill had an extra worry as part of his baggage as Shane Long is now a doubt for the November play-off dates.

Even as he ponders what UEFA throw at him on Sunday - a handy tie with Hungary or a tough draw against Ukraine with the punishing away leg first - O'Neill has enough to mull over. Already without the suspended John O'Shea and Jonathan Walters (two ever-presents in the campaign so far), O'Neill faces an anxious wait on the fate of Long, as well as other injury victims Shay Given and Ciaran Clark.

The only bright spots seem to be the return to fitness of Seamus Coleman and Marc Wilson, both expected to feature for their clubs this weekend for their first Premier League outings in weeks, but the absence of Long would hurt, Long still suffering from a tackle by defender Kamil Glik in Sunday's loss in Warsaw.

"The only injury we get from international duty was Shane Long, ankle ligaments. He'll be out, we expect, for two to four weeks," said Saints manager Ronald Koeman. "It's a disappointment but it's part of football."

O'Neill would not class that as a disappointment but a near disaster, as it would be touch and go for Long to make it in time for the play-offs, which start on November 12th.

With Robbie Keane no longer in the frame to play 90 minutes, especially in the punishing scenario of back-to-back play-off games, the absence of Long on top of the unavailability of Walters would leave Ireland very restricted in terms of striking options.

Tony Cascarino, who experienced play-off defeat with Ireland more than once, this week made the case for Daryl Murphy to start in the play-off, whether Long was fit or not, and the big man from Ipswich now comes under the spotlight. O'Neill and Mick McCarthy could both do with the sight of Murphy turning away in goal celebration for his club as the leading scorer in the Championship last season has yet to score this term.

With Robbie Brady having an off-night at left back in the loss to Poland, O'Neill needs to take another look at that position, especially as the man picked to play on the left side of midfield in Warsaw, James McClean, also had a poor night.

Marc Wilson, who has played at left back, has started just one league game for Stoke this season, having picked up an ankle injury in pre-season, but he is fit again and Mark Hughes expects the Antrim lad to start away to Swansea on Monday.

But with O'Shea out for the play-off first leg, Wilson will be needed in central defence, especially as Ciaran Clark is also a doubt, but Shay Given should have recovered from his knee injury by next month.

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