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Saturday 18 November 2017

Long hopes for big Wembley impact

Southampton’s Shane Long scores in the League Cup semi-final. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire.
Southampton’s Shane Long scores in the League Cup semi-final. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire.

There's a good reason Shane Long will be used as an impact sub in tomorrow's League Cup final at Wembley and it is plain to see from his numbers.

A striker with a goal in every four games and prone to barren stretches is rarely at the head of the queue when a manager is picking a team to win a Cup final.

There is more to Long than goals and when he's at his best, no defender wants to see him running free.

That part of his game is never lacking in effort or effectiveness but he comes up short when it comes to converting chances.

Claude Puel has Manolo Gabbiadini for that job. Even before his arrival in January, Long was in and out of the Southampton team, stuck behind a red hot Charlie Austin until he was injured and then Jay Rodriguez.

Inconsistency in front of goal has been his failing throughout his career at club and international level apart from notable spells in his early years at Reading and again under Ronald Koeman in the second-half of last season.

It is fair to say that the progress he made under Koeman has been reversed under Puel and it would be interesting to ask the Dutchman what it was that he did to switch Long on.

Maybe it was simply confidence. Maybe he found the key to Long's psyche.

His main source of game time for the Saints has been in knock-out competitions and the winning goal he scored against Liverpool in the semi-final, second-leg at Anfield was the second of four in a nice mini purple patch he has strung together since the year turned.

It won't be enough for a start against Manchester United. If Puel follows his habit, a 20 minute run in the might be the sum of it but it only takes a second to win a Cup.

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