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Shane Long Is Playing The Best Football Of His Life And Europe Should Be Very Afraid

Shane Long Is Playing The Best Football Of His Life And Europe Should Be Very Afraid
By Mikey Traynor Updated

Shane Long scored his 100th goal in English league football on Saturday evening as he helped his Southampton teammates to a convincing 4-2 win over Manchester City, and in a typically modest post-match interview he admitted that he hadn't a clue that he had reached the milestone.

He can be forgiven for not realising that he had hit his 100th goal in England mainly for the fact that it has come about so suddenly thanks to a burst of goalscoring form in recent months.

Since November, Long has been an ever present for Southampton and while the club's performances have been up and down, the same can not be said of the Tipperary man. He has been working as hard as he ever has, but has clearly added a killer instinct to his game that was not only missing previously but was also used as a reason for him not being a reliable Premier League striker.

Think back to when he signed for Southampton from Hull City...

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Like a leaking roof, it was always going to get worse. With Shane Long transferring from Hull to Southampton for £12million, the ceiling has finally caved in.

Granted, it's a tabloid headline, but the general consensus, even among Ireland fans was that Southampton had paid over the odds for a player who put in a hell of a lot of effort for Hull City, but ultimately didn't find the back of the net often enough.

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Since signing for Southampton he has not only added those goals, or that killer instinct rather, to his game, but he has done so while keeping the aspect of his game that made him an effective player in the first place. His tenacious effort.

Southampton fans knew they were getting a trier, a man who would chase down every lost cause and get them off of their seats with his work-rate and passion, but they didn't know they were getting a game changer. One quick look at his stats in the last 10 games that the Saints have played, and their results over that period, suggests they got just that. (stats via WhoScored.com)

Long's scoring run has coincided with Southampton's return to the form many expected them to maintain all season after last year's campaign, but it is far from a coincidence. With Long through the middle the Saints are causing teams serious problems at the back every week, while staying solid defensively.

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And, thankfully, it's not going unnoticed.

As we are right in the thick of 'Player Of The Year Awards' season, the discussion for the choice of Southampton's best performer appears to be coming down to two candidates, with Long just behind Virgil Van Dijk in the race for the main award.

Although according to this fan-poll on DailyEcho.co.uk, Long is out in front for the award with 46% of the votes compared to Van Dijk's 39% at the time of writing this article.

And, of course, even Thierry Henry was giving him love on Sky Sports this past weekend. Think what you will of the man, he knows what he's talking about when it comes to Premier League strikers.

Because let's face it, Shane Long is an absolute nightmare for a defender. He's lightning quick, and while his 5'9" inch frame will never strike fear into the heart of his Premier League opposition, his incredible athleticism is best shown in his impressive spring which catches many who haven't done their homework by surprise.

He scores all types of goals too, from headers, to tap-ins, to wonderful moments of skill, but so many of his goals come down to what makes him stand out as a player, his ability to force errors.

The perfect example was his goal against Chelsea, where he took a horrendous touch that sent the ball 20 meters away into the opposition penalty area, but while most Premier League strikers would have thrown their hands in the air and complained about the ball that was played to them, Long never gave up, eventually chipping the ball over Thibaut Courtois after he outpaced the entire Chelsea backline.

For a manager, that type of play is absolutely priceless, and it's the reason why Koeman has placed so much trust in Long after the Irishman started the season being linked with a move to Liverpool due to the signing of Charlie Austin.

The goal against Man City, another example of Long outworking his opponent to gain an advantage, was not only his 100th goal in England.

This is the first season that Shane Long has scored 10 Premier League goals. He did score 21 league goals for Reading in 2010-11, but that was in the Championship. It may be surprising for some, but Long was always considered a "great squad player" or an "ideal impact sub".

Now that he knows his place, his role, and his standing with the manager at his current club, his confidence is sky high. And it's very, VERY, good news for Ireland.

With Euro 2016 edging closer and closer, it has become apparent that a potential injury to Shane Long would be by far the most catastrophic of the current squad members. Long gives Ireland something no other player can with his combination of tireless work and finishing ability. The bizarre criticism levelled at Robbie Keane by some down the years was that he needs his chances put on a plate for him, but as far as Shane Long is concerned, he is going to the farmers market for organic ingredients, preparing the meal himself from scratch, and then getting stuck into it.

Ireland play Sweden, Belgium, and Italy at Euro 2016, and our opponents will likely be looking at a lot of Shane Long footage as the prepare to try and neutralise the Irish threat. What they will find is there is no tactical change that can make Long less effective. He's not some secret weapon, of course, as in stuffing the ball past Manuel Neuer back in October he sent a message to the rest of Europe that we were not only intent on making it to France, but also spoiling a few parties once we get there, but you can't plan to play Shane Long, you just need to keep your concentration levels at their highest for the entirety of the match.

Because if you don't, and Shane sniffs a chance of a heavy touch, or a sloppy pass, then you could be looking around wondering what the hell happened as he jogs over to the Irish fans with his arms stretched out in celebration.

SEE ALSO: Martin O'Neill On The Asset Shane Long Has Made A 'Conscious Effort' To Improve

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