Crunch week looms for Long
SHANE LONG is preparing for a massive week to bring down the curtain on a tremendous season. The Tipperary native is preparing for a Wembley play-off final date and a start for Ireland in the crucial Euro 2012 qualifier with Macedonia.
An aggravation of Kevin Doyle's knee problem has put Long in pole position to slot in alongside captain Robbie Keane in the heat of Skopje on June 4. Five days earlier, however, the red-hot 24-year-old will shoulder the responsibility as Reading do battle with Swansea for a place in the Premier League.
Long's confident brace at Cardiff on Tuesday night booked the big day out for Brian McDermott's side and, after making it to the 25-goal mark for the campaign, the Irish star is bound for the big time next season whatever happens, with a host of suitors lining up. However, he has stated a preference to ascend with Reading, which would guarantee him regular top-flight football.
"It would be a dream come true to get back to the top flight with the club that has given me so many chances," said Long in the wake of his Cardiff exploits.
"I owe so much to the club and manager, and I think we have the players to get there. Hopefully I will be a Premier League player with Reading."
Long isn't the only Irishman on the verge of a massive leap. Veteran Ian Harte and livewire Waterford man Noel Hunt were part of the starting XI at Cardiff, while former U-21 international Jay Tabb was a late sub.
Yet Long is the only one in Giovanni Trapattoni's immediate thoughts, and his play-off commitments mean that he misses out on next week's Carling Nations Cup battles with Northern Ireland and Scotland.
Long is the natural replacement for Doyle -- who requires another three to four weeks of rest -- but his absence from the Carling battles might give in-form Stoke striker Jonathan Walters an opportunity to impress.
- Kevin Kilbane helped Huddersfield secure a League One play-off final place after a thrilling 4-2 win over Bournemouth on penalties, following a 3-3 extra-time draw.
Kilbane slotted home his penalty, as Huddersfield netted all five from the spot to book a final date with either Peterborough or the MK Dons at Old Trafford on May 29.