Shane Long is in hot form right now, and after netting the winning goal against Swansea City last weekend, the Irishman is on course to reach double figures for the first time in his Premier League career. It’s safe to say he’s cemented his name into Ronald Koeman’s starting XI. But, can Shane Long break past that ten goal barrier? And why is this season different to his previous years with Reading, West Brom and Hull City?
Long started his career in England when he joined Reading FC from Cork City for an undisclosed fee in 2005. However, he struggled for game time in his first few years at Reading, with Kevin Doyle and Leroy Lita placed ahead of him in the pecking order. He scored three goals in eleven appearances in his first season, which resulted in Reading being promoted to the Premier League.
Coming into his first Premier League season, Long disappointed in the top flight, scoring just two goals – thankfully, however, Reading had done just enough to steer clear of the drop. But it was to be yet another frustrating season for Long, who knew he had to better last season’s goal tally. Having mustered up just three goals throughout his second season in the Premier League, Reading were relegated back to the Championship.
Whilst relegation was hard to take for the Royals, it was to be seen as a fresh challenge for Shane Long. Long became Readings first choice striker when Doyle left the club, going on to score 21 league goals for Reading in the 2010/11 Championship season. Reading made the play-off final that season, but, unfortunately, lost 4-2 to Swansea City. Reading remained in the Championship for yet another season.
As a result of his immense goal scoring form, Long was sold to Premier League side West Bromwich Albion – the transfer fee was believed to be around £4.5 million. In his first season for the Baggies, he came close to reaching double figures as he scored eight goals, including strikes against Manchester Utd, Chelsea and Arsenal. In the following season, Long once again fell short – matching the eight goals he scored during his previous campaign.
In the 2014/15 season, Long started the season at West Brom – scoring three goals in 15 appearances – but later moved to Hull City in January. Whilst all looked promising for Long when he scored on his home debut against Tottenham, his goal-scoring tally remained similar to that of previous years – scoring four goals in 15 appearances for the Tigers.
After only half a season at Hull, Long jumped ship to join Southampton in a £12.5 million deal. With strong opposition from Graziano Pelle, Dusan Tadic and Sadio Mane, Long struggled to maintain a first-team spot in his first year with Saints. Despite that, he managed to score 5 goals in 32 Premier League appearances – 21 of which were from the bench.
His first two goals came in a match against Leicester City at St Mary’s, where he bagged a brace after being introduced as a second-half substitute with only 20 minutes to go.
But now, after a year of hard work, training with the best squad of his career to date and working under Ronald Koeman, Long has been able to take his game to a level that he hasn’t reached before. He said it himself upon joining Southampton: “Southampton play a brand of football that’s enjoyable to watch, and I’m sure it’ll be enjoyable to play in as well”
Long has already scored six Premier League goals in 18 appearances this season, with his usual his nonstop work rate and pace being influential for the way Southampton play. However, he has been far more than the player of years before.
Long has been learning to play in an expressive and established top-flight side that persistently play on the front line for the first time in his career.
Previously, he would play for sides that drop deep and look to greatly play off his defensive contributions, rather than focusing on his build up play and dangerous movement. This has been a big step up for Long.
During his first season for Southampton, Long would mis-hit crosses, shank his shots and rush decisions. But having now settled into an attack-minded team, were being treated to skillful lay-offs, calm finishes and composed thinking too.
With goals against Arsenal and Manchester City already this season, Long is playing with a calmness and confidence in front of goal.
There are now 12 games remaining in the 2015/16 season, including matches against rock bottom Aston Villa and a struggling Sunderland side in freefall. With it almost being a guarantee for Long to start those games at the minute, there’s a great chance he can break that ten-goal barrier. Who’s to say what could come next?