Football

Martin O'Neill Must Face An Awkward Truth - Shane Long Is Not Justifying His Place

Martin O'Neill Must Face An Awkward Truth - Shane Long Is Not Justifying His Place

Shane Long may damn statistics and wish they were lies. But alas, they aren't.

Long has not scored in 24 games for club and country. In fact, he has just one goal in his last 42 games for Southampton and Ireland. By the time we kick off against Wales, Long will have gone 240 days without a goal.

While he will forever be the architect of the best night at the redeveloped Landsdowne Road, the reality is that Long should no longer be guaranteed his place for the Cardiff decider.

Tonight he was bereft of confidence, side-footing two sitters to the left of the post; the second egregious.

These were instances where he at least got himself into a position to finish, more worrying were other opportunities in which he didn't. Daryl Murphy flashed a ball across the face of the goal that was merely needed a touch rather than a controlled finish, but Long was absent. Instead, he was on his heels six yards too close to Darren Randolph. Such are the travails of the striker without confidence. Ireland need goals in Cardiff, and nothing tonight suggested that Long is capable of suddenly finding form to do so.

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This is not to suggest that Long is only in the side as a kind of goodwill gesture to his past heroics: Long's willingness to run the channels and find furrows to plough alone has suited Ireland's habit of funneling men behind the ball and hoiking it into the channels. If Ireland are to win against Wales, though, the attacking approach will have to be somewhat more refined. And to do that, Ireland need Wes Hoolahan.

Robbie Brady and James McClean will undoubtedly return against Wales having been suspended tonight, meaning O'Neill need to find two fall guys from tonight's saunter. The midfield diamond played tonight was heartening to see from an attacking point of view, but it offers too much space for Wales to attack into, particularly in front of Ireland's full-backs.

But while that space must be shored up, Ireland should not do so at the expense of Hoolahan. Wes is not without his faults - a cleaner pass would have settled the above chance before Long had the chance to miss, for example - but virtually every move of any quality Ireland have threaded together in this group has come through Hoolahan. The latest came tonight:

If Ireland are to exploit the spaces between Wales' back three and their wing-backs, Hoolahan is the man to stitch together the passing triangles necessary to do that.

And at the moment, Daryl Murphy is a safer bet to finish off the resultant crosses than Shane Long.

Martin O'Neill is in the position he is in for an ability to make difficult decisions. Over the coming days, he faces some of the toughest of his tenure.

See Also: The Ireland Player Ratings From A Game Of Two Halves At The Aviva

 

Gavin Cooney
Article written by
Changed the spelling of his name upon pressure from Michael Owen.

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