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Saints pray for Long


Southampton manager Ronald Koeman with Shane Long Photo: Reuters

Southampton manager Ronald Koeman with Shane Long Photo: Reuters

Southampton manager Ronald Koeman with Shane Long Photo: Reuters

His club are reluctant to rush him back into action after an injury, but Southampton are in no doubt over the value of Shane Long to the Saints this season.

Long scored his 10th goal of the season for the club in their weekend defeat to Chelsea but the 29-year-old was unable to finish game game due to cramp, was replaced with 20 minutes to go and is unlikely to be fit for tonight's Premier League game away to Bournemouth.

"We have one doubt, about Shane Long," said Saints boss Ronald Koeman.

"It was a little bit cramp, it was not really a hamstring injury. We have the session later on and then we will make the decision if he is ready for tomorrow, but he will be doubtful.

"Shane is doing very well this season. He's very dangerous, he's scoring goals, he's creating a lot of problems to defenders. You like to have everybody available, but we have real competition in all parts of the team and that makes the team stronger. If you can't use one player, the other player needs to be sharp to play and show his qualities."

With the first international game of 2016 over three weeks away, it's too early for Martin O'Neill to be concerned about Long's fitness but the Ireland boss will be keeping an eye on how his forwards shape up between now and the Dublin dates with Switzerland and Slovakia.

The start of the League of Ireland season next weekend is unlikely to distract O'Neill too much but he will be keeping an eye on the new campaign in the MLS which kicks off at the same time.

Robbie Keane reassured supporters of LA Galaxy this week that he's as committed to the club as ever and the fact that he's been doing coaching courses does not mean his playing career is winding down. "I definitely have a few more good years in me," said Keane.

Kevin Doyle has been in good form in pre-season for Colorado Rapids, where Sean St Ledger is a team-mate, but the 32-year-old faces a big battle to win a place in the squad for Euro 2016.

Doyle was used very sparingly by O'Neill in the qualifying campaign with just one sub appearance for the Wexford native. And Doyle's comments in a recent interview, where he expressed his unhappiness at how he was left out of the travelling party for the qualifying game in Poland having made the 7,000km trip from his US base, will have been noted by the Ireland boss.

One man who may come into O'Neill's plans as a forward option is Anthony Pilkington, who has sparked his career into life after moving from a wide position into a centre-forward role with Cardiff City. With three goals in his last three games, the 27-year is on fire as Cardiff head closer to the play-offs.

"I think there are a couple of places up for grabs in the play-offs, if you look at the teams who have dropped points this weekend. It's going to go right to the wire, and hopefully we can pick up enough points to sneak in there come the end of the season," says Pilkington.