RICHARD DUNNE is "down and low" as he struggles to overcome the groin problem that has destroyed his season and raised questions about his long-term future.
His club colleague Eric Lichaj has admitted that the Dubliner is finding his lengthy absence difficult to cope with – he is back at square one after two unsuccessful attempts to return to full training.
"Dunney has been trying to keep his spirits up but I think he is a bit down and low and that is why we have been trying to keep his spirits up," said Lichaj. "Hopefully his body can get back to normal.
"I know what he is going through because I have experienced it myself. It is just so annoying. He has been a little frustrated. He joined in training for a couple of days a few weeks ago but then something else happened to him.
"That started recurring and that is something you never want to see happening to one of your team-mates.
"It is just really frustrating for him, especially as he is really good to have around the dressing-room because he is always so lively."
It's been a miserable campaign for the senior Irish players at Aston Villa, with Shay Given stuck on the bench and manager Paul Lambert reluctant to allow him to leave on loan despite renewed interest from Hull in a January switch.
Long's injury was also the reason why he was initially left out of Giovanni Trapattoni's Ireland squad for the November friendly against Greece, before being reinstalled when it became apparent that he was available to play.
Long accepts that the Christmas period will provide a stern test of his well-being, yet he is encouraged by how his body is feeling at the moment.
"It's still being managed," said Long of the injury. "It's a lot better now. I didn't have any tape on in the last game because I'm on the mend. It's a case of forgetting about it and keep doing my little bits to make sure it doesn't come back.
"Over Christmas, there are three or four games in a week and a half, so it will be tough going. I'm on five league goals so I'm over halfway to last year's tally. So the next step is to get to double figures and then after that 15 goals, then 20 goals and just keep aiming higher and higher.
"It was around this time last year that I broke down with my back. It's a case of managing myself properly during the games."
West Brom host Norwich tomorrow before a St Stephen's Day trip to QPR. They then have a meeting with Manchester United at Old Trafford on December 29 before a New Year's Day showdown with Fulham at the Hawthorns.