Saturday 3 December 2016

Martin O'Neill queries Long's goal scoring mindset

John Fallon

Published 23/08/2015 | 02:30

Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill
Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill

Ireland manager Martin O'Neill has questioned whether striker Shane Long has the mentality to become a prolific goalscorer.

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Despite being one of only two forwards in the Ireland squad to operate at Premier League level, the Southampton man was overlooked for a starting spot in both home Euro qualifiers against Poland and Scotland last season.

Even the 28-year-old's goalscoring appearance from the bench in March, which earned a precious point against Group D leaders Poland, didn't earn him preference over Championship striker Daryl Murphy when the Scots needed to be beaten 10 weeks later in Dublin.

Now, as Ireland enter the last four games of the campaign badly in need of at least three wins to salvage their ambitions of clinching a play-off spot, O'Neill has suggested there's much work for Long to do before he's considered worthy of a starting berth.

"Shane is capable of scoring a great goal but what we want Shane to be is a great goal-scorer," explained O'Neill of the Tipperary man with a dozen goals from his 54 appearances for Ireland.

"I think Shane has to get into a mentality to think about scoring goals - he has to be able to do that. He is getting opportunities, comes on as sub for Southampton and scores the goal against Newcastle last week. Then he starts the game and maybe doesn't finish the match.

"Whatever you say about him, Robbie Keane comes out and plays like a No 10 role quite often. He's done it at Tottenham and different clubs but can still find time to get into the penalty box to score a goal because that's what he feels is his major contribution. Shane has got to get into that mentality."

O'Neill said that Long's deployment by Southampton manager Ronald Koeman in a wide position was no excuse for his modest goal returns, citing his own scoring record at Nottingham Forest from a similar position.

"I don't care if he plays as a winger," O'Neill said. "It still shouldn't stop you. I am talking generally but I know this from personal experience because I was roared at to get in at the far post when the ball was on the left-hand side of the field. I would be thinking 'I've done doggies up and down the right-hand side of the pitch, kept Viv Anderson alive' but still had to get in there for Forest.

"My goal-scoring record was pretty decent for a wide right-sided player. You might feel isolated but that does not prevent you from scoring; it forces you to get in when the build-up play is on the other side. I think it is so natural. It is natural thing to do if you want to score."

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