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!