Ireland play-off fears as Long waits on scan
ASTON VILLA 1 WEST BROM 2
IT'S D-Day for Shane Long's Euro 2012 play-off chances, with the Tipperary native set to undergo a scan on his knee after a horror challenge from Alan Hutton that went unpunished on Saturday.
West Brom manager Roy Hodgson was outraged and, with his striking options already limited for next month's crunch showdown with Estonia, you can imagine that Giovanni Trapattoni was in a similar mood in Milan.
Long believes he was lucky to have escaped more serious injury following the reckless challenge from the Scot which, according to Hodgson, could have broken both of the Tipperary man's legs.
Austrian Paul Scharner, who grabbed the winner for West Brom against the 10 men of Villa, suggested that Alex McLeish's side had targeted the Irish flier from the outset. "They tried very hard to kick him," he said.
The sum total of the damage will become clear today.
Long stressed the positives when he spoke to RTE's 'Premier Soccer Saturday', but admitted that he faced a nervous wait.
"The (West Brom) medics don't think it's my medial ligament but it could be another ligament around the back of my knee," he said.
"I'll know more after the scan. The first 24 hours are crucial so I'll be doing all I can to keep it wrapped up and hope that that makes a difference. I don't want to miss that Estonia game."
The mild-mannered 24-year-old also called for retrospective sanction for Hutton, who escaped a booking for the incident.
Referee Phil Dowd decided against awarding a free-kick, although the former Tottenham and Rangers defender was punished for a subsequent challenge on the Irishman.
"It could have been a lot worse," explained Long. "I was lucky my foot came out of the ground. If I was standing on it, I'm sure he would have snapped my leg in two.
"He didn't even get a yellow card. If the ref had seen it, I'm sure he might have had a different reaction. I just hope they can do something about it now."
It's less than three weeks until the first leg against Estonia in Tallinn, and Long would be the most likely replacement for Kevin Doyle, who sits out that game through suspension.
Robbie Keane is aiming to return to action for LA Galaxy this week, but will need to prove that his speedy recovery from a gluteal muscle problem is the real thing. Trapattoni has consistently cautioned against rushing players back from that kind of injury.
The 72-year-old will name his squad later this week, and may have to add Leon Best to his party to bolster the striking ranks.
Simon Cox, Jonathan Walters and Andy Keogh are ahead of the Newcastle man in the queue. Walters played 90 minutes for Stoke in their defeat at Arsenal yesterday, while Keogh was in goalscoring form for Leeds at Peterborough on Saturday.
Meanwhile, Cox will be in line to benefit at club level if Long faces a lengthy absence.
He was an unused substitute on Saturday as the Baggies benefited from another questionable decision to taste derby success.
On the advice of his assistant Darren Cann, Dowd awarded a penalty and dished out a red card to Chris Herd for an alleged stamp after he got tangled up with Jonas Olsson.
McLeish will appeal the decision, which, he believes, changed the course of the match.
Olsson said: "He kicks back and hits me on my thigh. He will think it's a bit harsh, but I think he will agree it's a foul."
West Brom were trailing to Darren Bent's early penalty at that point, and remained behind after Chris Brunt's wild spot kick.
However, Olsson climbed highest in a crowded penalty to equalise before the break, and Scharner popped up just shy of the hour mark to claim the winner.
Both Hodgson and Trapattoni will be praying that it didn't come at too much of a price.