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Monday 5 December 2016

Fight on for Long to show he can top Jon

Transfer tall tales an unwelcome distraction for Southampton ace

Stoke’s Jonathan Walters looks dejected after Saturday’s defeat by Leicester. Photo: Reuters
Stoke’s Jonathan Walters looks dejected after Saturday’s defeat by Leicester. Photo: Reuters
Southampton’s Shane Long, in action against Paddy McNair, put in some serious hard graft against Manchester United at Old Trafford on Saturday. Photo: Getty

Shane Long must wonder what the fuss is all about. For most of last week, his name was batted about the gossip sites like a pinball until everyone wore themselves out and the story ground to a halt.

Liverpool wanted him and so did Spurs, Then they didn't. Did they ever?

Ronald Koeman said he was never going to sell anyway but then he bought Charlie Austin which kicked off a whole new round of rumour and gave some legs to the idea that Long was ready to roam again.

Great stuff and almost certainly based on not much at all.

The anatomy of a transfer story used to be uncomplicated. If a player wanted a move, he had a word with a friendly hack or his agent muttered a few leading sentences off the record.

These days transfer 'fliers' can take off on the back of a conversation in a pub and a couple of tweets later have circumnavigated the globe, meeting themselves on the way back, complete with embellishments and sub plots.

Evidence

Old school hackery never rejected a flier but there had to be at least circumstantial evidence the yarn had some grounding in reality and was more than just a complete invention or the wishful thinking of a spotty, attic website editor.

"Who do we sell today?" has been heard in many newspaper sports departments down through the years on a slow day for news but because of the transfer windows, the market has now spawned an enormous torrent of speculation.

It was Long's turn for a week and Austin's pretty spectacular debut for Southampton added in another layer of drama.

Was there ever anything in this story?

Austin's arrival certainly pointed to increased competition for Long and perhaps this was at the root of the tale rather than Jürgen Klopp or Mauricio Pochettino's passion for the Tipperaryman.

It has been Long's fate to soldier in the shadow of other strikers who score more goals but perhaps do not work as hard and just when he seemed to be building momentum and a decent season's total, Austin arrives and makes an instant impact.

Long explained to everyone that he wanted to stay at Southampton and let's be honest, what else was he going to say?

He needs to fend off Austin and any other rivals at St Mary's and prove his worth by holding his place in a Premier League team until the end of the season.

He has a big four months ahead of him to convince everyone that he can be trusted to carry Ireland into the Euro 2016 finals as Martin O'Neill's first striker and to do that, he must perform better than Jon Walters.

To do that, Long must stay in the team at Southampton and he shows signs of doing that now so why move?

After spending some time on the bench after his heroics against Bosnia, Walters re-established his first choice status at Stoke in the first week in January and has three goals for the month heading into tonight's League Cup second-leg at Anfield.

Long has managed just one but more important is the fact that since Southampton battered Arsenal 4-0 on St Stephen's Day and he got two of them, he has been first choice.

When Ronald Koeman looked to Austin for a moment of inspiration off the bench against Manchester United, he replaced Saido Mane, as he has done throughout the month, leaving Long to finish the course.

By far the meatier transfer tales we want to read about in the next five days should be Aiden McGeady's move somewhere . . . anywhere!

To date, he has been linked with Leeds, Blackburn, Sheffield Wednesday and oddly enough, Spartak Moscow again but nothing solid has emerged yet.

Darron Gibson is Cup-tied and close enough to the Everton first team to sit tight but that won't win him a place on O'Neill's bus.

Like McGeady, he must find football somewhere and the only realistic way to do that is to bite the bullet and head for the Championship if there are no Premier League takers.

O'Neill will have tough calls to make and Gibson should think hard about the impact Harry Arter is making at Bournemouth in the Premier League.

He should also note that his direct rivals for a spot in O'Neill's squad are gathering in a bunch at the top of an ultra-competitive Championship with David Meyler on top with Hull and Jeff Hendrick not far behind in third with Derby.

It would not do him or McGeady any harm at all if they could find a way to join in that promotion battle.

Where better to prove your worth to O'Neill than against the very players you're trying to displace?

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