After a dire and gutless 2-0 home defeat against Marco Silva’s Watford, Mauricio Pellegrino knew that his side needed change. The return of Mario Lemina in the midfield was desperately needed (whilst inevitable), but it was the curveball decision to start Shane Long which helped Southampton to find joy in attack.
The Irishman failed to score on his return to the starting XI, but his fine back-to-basics performance will have no doubt impressed Pellegrino.
Southampton have lacked a presence up top in recent weeks, with Italian International Manolo Gabbiadini continually being starved of service. Long’s re-introduction to the side however added a new found urgency to the frontline, with each loose ball and centre half being chased and hurried at every available opportunity.
Long’s goalscoring and technical ability is certainly there to be questioned, but it’s undeniable that he’s proven himself to be a nuisance up against any type of centre-back.
It seems that even Long himself is aware of the his own strengths and weaknesses.
“What he (Pellegrino) wanted from the striker was to test in behind by stretching their defence. It creates holes in the pockets for Redderz, Davo and Dusan to get on the ball and I think I am the man for that job,” Long said, speaking on the 1-0 win over Palace.
“But if it’s going to be a deep lying defence and he wants someone to come to the ball he wants different options. It depends on who we’re playing against and as I said I thought I played well today and everyone seemed happy with how I did”
Regardless of whether you’re a 6ft 5 unit at the heart of a Tony Pulis defence, or a ball player in the Barcelona back-line, there’s not a single defender that enjoys being pressed and forced back to their goal.
But with hot competition on his back, Long knows that this form has to follow through into next week…
Speaking to the Daily Echo, Long stated “It’s been frustrating. The gaffer’s got a few options up front with me, Gabbi and Charlie.
“He likes to play one striker so someone will be frustrated, but I’ve just kept my head down, trained hard, and tried to prove my point. I’m just waiting for my chance to come.
“[Against Palace] I feel like I played well but I didn’t get that goal, so the next game I’ll try and put that right and kick on.
“For me it’s all about game time. Goals come with game time. I remember my Reading days even I think I scored one in 13 but finished with 25 goals by the end of the season,” he said.
“Hopefully [Pellegrino] will be happy with me today and I can now get a run of two, three, four games in the team and the goals will come.
“I feel like I’m playing well and the chances will come. I’ve been scoring in training, I’ve been flying on the pitch. It’s just a matter of time.”