For some time now it feels like that as the end of the season approaches, there are numerous positives about Saints and their campaign that I could write about, and this is no exception.
One of the negatives this season, that I feel needs addressing, is that Shane Long might not be voted the player of the season.
In any other season he would have had it sewn up, but with the performances of Virgil van Dijk at the other end of the pitch catching the eye too, it is likely he’ll be a valiant runner up to the Dutchman.
The turnaround in the perception of Long in the eyes of Saints fans has been remarkable. Cast your minds back to August 2014, the 12 million pound transfer from Hull came with some unkind remarks about his perceived value in comparison to the fee paid, and I will not shirk the fact that I was one of those detractors.
This criticism was largely based on the fact that Long’s goal return wasn’t overly impressive for a ‘striker’, based largely on the fact that he had never hit double figures in any of his four previous Premier League campaigns with Reading, West Brom and Hull City respectively.
If the pressure was already on him in his early days as a Southampton player, it was compounded further by his number. Seven. The number that Matthew Le Tissier had worn, and had most recently been vacated by the just departed fan favourite Rickie Lambert. It sounds like a small detail, but people react to such decisions, and an a level of expectation is made.
Long’s first season at Saints was perhaps unremarkable, though it is easily forgotten that he weighed in to a record breaking debut by Ronald Koeman with five goals, despite being not a regular in the starting lineup (Long started 16 times).
It is this season that Long has come into his own though, so far starting 21 games, missing some through injury and has remodelled himself as a player who draws attention to when he isn’t in the team rather than when he is.
His effervescent displays this season, be it up front or as part of a support three have been dazzling at times, and though he might never be considered the most cultured player in the world, many an opposition defence will have felt relieved his constant hassling of them was over.
Relentless energy and supreme efficiency with the ball makes Long a valuable asset, but I shouldn’t fail to address his goal return or perceived lack of it.
Long has hit 10 Premier League goals this season, putting him joint top with Sadio Mane and Graziano Pelle but there are further statistics that puts the Irishman out in front. Both Mane and Pelle have started more games than Long, but further still their goal to shot ratios are nowhere near as good. Both the Senegalese and the Italian have score their 10 goals having had 80 shots apiece. Long has achieved the same total from just 59 shots.
Goals are of course important, but I think Long’s contribution has been as much about the team dynamic as it has been the amount of times he has hit the back of the net. Ronald Koeman has built a style that utilises both the wide positions (and particularly the use of crossing) and often at pace. Long is ideal for it, and the added bonus that he is better in the air than you might expect means that he is comfortable in any of the forward positions.
Saints are at the culmination of another decent season, but this Summer you can add Shane Long to the list of the players fans will be anxiously hoping stays at St. Mary’s. He might not be Southampton player of the season, but he is a Southampton player for a reason. Who saw that coming?
As Ronald Koeman and Saints set about rebuilding the squad ahead of the new Premier League season, we have been linked with a plethora of players across Europe, so the news that they had had a bid accepted for Shane Long seemingly came from nowhere.
A player who in the past has had, shall we say, minor disagreements with Saints fans might take his time to get the crowd behind him, but as a full Irish international and with bags of experience under his belt, Long is a player who certainly adds to the squad and in a position where the club lacks depth.
Personally I’ve never been overwhelmed by him, and his goal record isn’t great for a striker, but his work rate and ‘hassling’ of Saints defences in the past has been a nuisance. I thought I would get the thoughts of those that have seen him week in/week out as per the norm and caught up with Hull City fan Rick Skelton from Boothferry to Wembley and WBA fan and aspiring coach Ash Davies.
This one came a little out of the blue, were you surprised to see the news that Long was heading to St. Mary’s?
RS ‘ I was surprised. He wasn’t a player I’d expected any interest in given that he’s only been here seven months and I couldn’t see anyone coming up with enough money to tempt Hull CIty to sell.’
AD ‘At first yes, I think everyone was surprised, we had got a great fee for a player who’s contract was out this summer and he’d moved to a club he seemingly liked, although he didn’t want to leave WBA the lack of a good enough offer forced him out, however he has many strong bonds down south and on that front I am not surprised he is heading down your way, I didn’t expect it to be so soon after a move to Hull though.’
Does Long have any specific strengths and weaknesses we should be aware of?
RS ‘His pace is his biggest attribute. He has real acceleration and combined with his willingness to keep making runs, it wears down defenders. He has enough strength and a good enough touch that he’ll turn hopeful balls into good ones. His weakness is obvious in his goalscoring record. It was around 1 in 4 before he joined us and it hasn’t been that good since. He’s a hit and hope finisher rather than a taker of chances. Someone who gets in the positions he does should do far better.’
AD ‘Strengths; He’ll run all day for you, he’ll leave everything on the pitch and create a bond with the fans, that always helps when the going gets tough. I have to say his ability to win yards was a huge plus under Hodgson, he would win a throw in, free kick or corner from a long punt towards him at times and that gained us 60+ yards and put the pressure on the opposition, it was huge. He has a huge leap for a little(er) lad and really uses that to get at defenders, a great tool that’ll always give you hope on a heading battle. I like the way he can play channels, drift out wide and when we had him, Odemwingie and Lukaku he played well from wide areas getting balls into the box and combining with the other attackers, however I don’t think wing play is his game.
Weakness: Goals. Ultimately he never got enough over the time he played for us, he linked well, he had some great movements but when the finish came around he wasn’t consistent enough, just look at the last fixture he played for us, against you boys, he should have buried Boruc and didn’t. First touch has a tendency to let him down at times too, when it needed to stick it couldn’t and that was what frustrated many with him. His injury record also should be a major concern for you, he often praised us for the way we dealt with his Hamstring condition and said that the club needs to understand what he has, so you’ll find his Hamstrings are weaker than most and he will pick up knocks.’
He’s had run in’s with the Saints crowd before, and many have been upset by his tendency to ‘go down easily’, is this something we should get used to?
RS ‘Yes, he definitely “draws” fouls. He upset WBA fans in winning a penalty against them last season which was incredibly soft. As with most cheats in football though – no one seems to mind when they’re on your team.’
AD ‘Yes, something he’s added to his game over the past year and a side to his game us baggies were glad to see leave, he does love a dive, and to go down under pressure, it’s not a lack of strength it’s him falling down under the slightest touch. It’s diving and it’s something he will continually do, also expect some arm flapping and a bit of moaning to come along with that.’
How is Long best utilised from a tactical/formation perspective?
RS ‘He can play as a lone front man and will do a great job in games where discipline is the objective. If you want to take the game to the opposition – which Saints have tended to do – he needs to play in a pair or wide in a three because he won’t score the amount of goals required. He’s a selfless player though so he’ll play anywhere across the front and do the hard work for other people.’
AD ‘Difficult to say; He’s played many roles at WBA and I liked him as a lone forward when he arrived, pack the midfield and give him service down the sides and in behind where he can chase and harry defenders all day long, ultimately his pressure lead to WBA possession but as his time at WBA drew to a close we saw more of him in a 4-4-2 where he’d run channels and play into his fellow striker and try and create a partnership. Best way to utilise him would be a lone role with a number 10 getting around him, I’m not sure he likes running channels in a 2 and I am not sure he is specific enough as a striker to play in a two, he’s an all rounder which leads me to play him alone, but that would require goals coming from midfield and a supply line, he’ll give midfielders space by taking away defenders.’
What have you made of the situation at Saints this summer?
RS ‘I’ve been a bit surprised. Taking stupid money for Lallana and Shaw was a no-brainer really and no club could be criticised for that but some of the other sales have seemed unnecessary. It’s not like you need the money after the two big deals so all it does is give the impression that you are open for business. That then leads to difficult situations like the one with Schneiderlin. I think you should have put your foot down earlier and given the right impression to the likes of Lovren and Chambers.’
AD ‘Feel for you, to lose that many players and management hurts, we’ve had an eventful summer ourselves but you’ve outdone us on that score. I would question certain aspects of running the club at times but would also say if the player does want out then so be it, let them go, what needs to be done now is a rebuild and quickly. Need to get new, quality players in who want to be at the club, it’s more than do-able, but you need a reliable scouting network, a manager willing to speak their mind on who and want they want and a board wanting to back them with all their decisions. Personally feel you’ve taken quite a few backwards steps thus far and instead of looking at Europe you’re looking over your shoulders again vying to stay with the big boys. Very much like us on the season aspirations, survive this season and I think you could really kick on in 2015/16 when it’s all calmed a little/ What’s important for you fans now is to have a sense of perspective, you’ll never break into the top 6 because of financial reasons so the aim is always going to be below that in our mini league and staying up should always be the first aim for all of our mini league sides. Get to 40 and go from there.’
So there we have it, a signing many of us would not have chosen, but a valuable squad member no doubt. Perhaps not the marquee transfer some would have liked, but it’s not often Saints pry a first team player away from another Premier League club, and Long strikes me as one you would rather have for you than against you!
Well after the debacle that was the Manchester United team, I have surprisingly fared a little better with a shared Wigan Athletic team, even getting people in the right positions and players that have been registered players with both clubs.
Considering the two clubs share very little history it was relatively easy to pick a team and I even had a spare keeper (Dave Beasant)!
Born in Manchester Nixon began his professional career in 1983 at Maine Road with City, while at the club he earned the feat of playing for a club in every English division in one season, while on loan at Wolves, Bradford, Saints and Carlisle in 1986/87. He made four appearances at The Dell in that season, providing cover for Peter Shilton. He eventually joined Tranmere Rovers and made over 340 appearances for the Wirral club before several loan moves in the mid-90’s. He signed for Wigan in 1998 (initially on loan) and played three times before heading back to Tranmere. Nixon retired in 2004 and went into coaching and Elvis-impersonating!
Dubliner Kenna joined the Southampton youth academy in 1987 and turned pro in 1989. He was a highly rated right full back during his time at the Dell and played in the defeated ZDS final team. Having played over 110 times for Saints he was sold to new money Blackburn Rovers for £1.5 million in 1995. He played over 150 times for Rovers but fell down the pecking order and was sent out on loan moves in 2001. One of those was to the DW Stadium. He played six times for Wigan before heading to Birmingham City. He returned to Ireland in 2008 and became player/manager of Galway United, he quit to take over the reigns at St. Patrick’s Athletic in 2009 but lasted less than a year and now coaches in the United States.
‘One Size’ started his career in his native London with West Ham, but was released as a youth player, he signed for Barnet but it didn’t work out there either and he dropped into non-league football. He was managed at Chesham United by Bob Dowie, brother of former Saints striker Iain who took him to Oldham Athletic in 2002. His fantastic first season in Greater Manchester saw him propelled to the Premier League in 2003 with Saints. Though Hall didn’t perform badly for Saints, he couldn’t force his way past Lundekvam and Svensson at the heart of Saints defence, having played just 11 times for the club he rejoined Dowie at Crystal Palace. It was 2006 when he made his way to the Latics, but his time at the DW seemed to be littered with injuries, own goals and suspensions. Once Peter Taylor moved on Hall was out of favour and left for QPR in 2008. Now playing at Watford.
Makin began his career at Boundary Park playing nearly 100 games for Oldham between 1991 & 1996. During the early days of his spell he was loaned to Springfield Park and played 15 times for Wigan in the 92/93 season. He arrived at Southampton in 2006 at the end of his career via Marseille, Sunderland, Ipswich, Leicester, Derby and Reading and little was expected of him. To many fans surprise he proved to be a decent acquisition for Saints and played 27 times before retiring through injury in 2008.
Right winger Lee was born in the North, and but for a short spell with Saints spent his entire career in the North. Having started his career at Bury he was given a chance in the top flight by Saints in 1991, but he would last just a season. Having played 20 games he was loaned to Bolton and joined them permanently soon after. He played over 150 games for Wanderers before signing for Wigan in 1997 and played over 80 times for the Latics, later had spells with Blackpool, Carlisle and Morecambe before returning to the DW stadium as a youth coach. Now the assistant academy director at Bolton.
Having been a trainee at Manchester United McLoughlin made a name for himself with Swindon Town. His performances were enough for Saints to take a punt on him in 1990 for £1 million. He didn’t establish himself at the higher level and played only 24 times for Saints in two seasons. He crossed the M27 divide that summer for £400,000 and became a Pompey legend. Playing over 300 times for the club, his performances earned him a place at the 1994 World Cup with Ireland. As injuries hampered his later career he joined Wigan in 1999 for £260,000 and made 22 appearances for them before leaving for Rochdale in 2001. Having retired in 2003 McLoughlin has been a commentator on local radio in Pompey and also worked with the club as a coach. Sadly battling cancer, McLoughlin had a kidney removed in October last year. Everyone at georgeweahscousin.com wishes him a speedy recovery.
A graduate of the famous Wallsend Boys Club in the North East, geordie Widdrington joined Saints as a youth scholar in 1987, he turned pro in 1990 and soon became popular with the crowd with his combative style. Although never truly first choice he played nearly 100 times for Saints in five seasons. In his early days as a young pro Widdrington was sent on loan to Wigan (1991) playing six times for the Latics. After he left Saints he played for Grimsby, Port Vale, Hartlepool, Macclesfield and Port Vale before heading back south with Salisbury City. Now manager of Eastbourne Borough.
Local lad Penk joined Wigan in the early 1950’s and was given the chance to turn pro with Portsmouth in 1955, things didn’t work out for Penk at Fratton Park and he joined Plymouth in 1957. He lasted three season’s with Argyle playing over 100 times and joined Saints in 1960. Penk made over 50 appearances for the club between ’60 and ’64 before moving to Salisbury City.
Senegalese forward Camara came to England via France and Switzerland to sign for Wolves in 2003. He endeared himself to the fans by refusing to play for them in the Championship following relegation and was loaned to Celtic. He was signed on loan by Saints in January 2005 and was without doubt the most succesful of Redknapp’s dealings while at the club. Camara’s energetic performances couldn’t stop Saints being relegated though and he headed to one of their Premier League replacements Wigan. Camara played over 70 games for the Latics, chipping with 20 goals. Later played for West Ham, Stoke and Sheffield United before heading to Greece.
Fondly remembered at St. Mary’s, scruffy striker Brett Ormerod’s relentless hard work complimented James Beattie’s more technical nonchalance perfectly. In what was a great period for Saints fans Ormerod played over 100 times for Saints between 2001 and 2006 including the 2003 cup final (having a blinder in the semi). As he fell down the pecking order he was loaned to Wigan in 2005 scoring twice in six games. Now playing for Wrexham.
Irishman Connolly began his career in 1994 with Watford, before heading to Holland with Feyenoord and subsequently played for several more English clubs, scoring goals everywhere he went before arriving at Wigan in 2005, injuries effected his time at the DW (soon to be a recurring theme) and he scored just one league goal for the Latics. He moved to Sunderland in 2006 before joining Saints in 2009. Part of the Saints side that was promoted from League One in 2011, the Championship in 2012 and that won the Johnstones Paint Trophy in 2010. Took a break from football on his release from Saints, but returned at Pompey in December.
So there it is, another team, and a slightly balanced one for once! As always let me know of anymore that I have missed!
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