Sunday 20 January 2019

Saints alive but Long is still looking for his mojo

Liverpool's Estonian defender Ragnar Klavan (R) falls over the top of Southampton's Irish striker Shane Long. Pic: Getty Images
Liverpool's Estonian defender Ragnar Klavan (R) falls over the top of Southampton's Irish striker Shane Long. Pic: Getty Images

What are we to do with Shane Long? On the bench again for Southampton while they were doing something important, all the gains he made last season seem have been lost.

He made it onto the pitch for the last ten minutes of Southampton's League Cup semi-final first-leg win over Liverpool but that's nowhere near enough for a man who should be in the prime years of his career.

The usual practice for League Cup, and nowadays FA Cup games, is that fringe men get to blow out the pipes and try and show the boss that they might be worth a whirl in the Premier League team.

If they don't succeed in their main ambition but do well enough to keep a Cup run going, their reward is often the bench when the final beckons.

That's been Long's fate since Claude Puel replaced Ronald Koeman at St Mary's.


Not quite trusted to lead the line in the Premier League and with Charlie Austin in decent form, Long looked for solace in the Europa Cup and this competition.

But once the sniff of Wembley wafted around the club after they beat Arsenal in the quarter-final, it was out with the fringe and in with the front line troops.

With Austin sidelined for up to four months, it is worrying for Long that Puel chose Jay Rodriguez, another nearly man with years pock-marked by injuries behind him and also desperate for game time, to start against Liverpool.

Clearly, Long doesn't inspire confidence in his manager and there is not a lot you can do to change that other than score goals and he can't do that if he's not playing.

He got one over Christmas in a 2-1 defeat by West Brom and the only other entry in his scoring ledger came in October when he scored against Moldova for Ireland.

Confidence has always been Long's problem and under Koeman, he found a vein of form which gave him a perfect platform to attack the Euro 2016 finals in France.

He didn't really shine in June and didn't score and since August, that glow of self-belief which he carried in the final three months of last season evaporated.

Loris Karius finds himself in much the same boat but at least Jurgen Klopp gave him the chance to start the process of confidence building rather than leave him sitting in Liverpool.

Karius hit a bump in his career and had a few poor games which brought an almost hysterical reaction from Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville.

It focused a very unfair spotlight on him and he paid with his place in the Liverpool Premier League team.

Last night he was brilliant and by half-time, had stopped Southampton romping away with the first-leg.

Nathan Redmond scored a nice goal after 20 minutes but he should have had three and Karius's legs, arms and hands were all used to stop him.

Ragnar Klavan's defending was spectacularly bad (pictured falling over Shane Long), underlining Klopp's problems with reliable replacements when either Joel Matip or Dejan Lovren are not available.

An hour later, Long finally got his chance and his first and last act was to tee Redmond up for another miss with a trademark bursting run down the left.

Other than that, he hardly raised a sweat.

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