Christmas boost for Irish pair as injuries open door to comeback
Shane Long and James McCarthy were given a Christmas boost as difficulty for club colleagues gave them an opportunity to move closer to first-team involvement.
Long is in the frame for inclusion in Southampton's lunchtime date with Spurs after first-choice striker Charlie Austin suffered a hamstring injury, and subsequently being handed a three-match ban for violent conduct, in Saturday's 1-1 draw with Huddersfield.
The Tipp man returned to the Saints bench for that game after a minor injury contributed to his absence from the picture since the end of November.
While he was an unused sub, the confirmation from Mauricio Pellegrino that Austin is out for a "couple of weeks minimum" has opened the door for the 30-year-old, who is desperate to end a barren run that stretches back to last February.
Meanwhile, a hamstring injury to Idrissa Gueye could fast-track McCarthy's return for Everton.
Gueye was forced off in Saturday's scoreless draw with Chelsea and that looks set to leave Sam Allardyce a man light in the defensive midfield department.
McCarthy has made only one senior appearance in an injury-plagued campaign - the League Cup date with Chelsea in October - but he was involved in a behind- closed-doors match last week.
Allardyce indicated afterwards that the player still felt he needed time on the training pitch before making a comeback.
While this afternoon's date with West Brom should come too soon, he has added motivation to get back available if Gueye is sidelined.
McCarthy's Everton future is up for discussion, although it was reported last week that Allardyce wants to keep the player until the end of the season.
It was a happy Christmas for the pair's old Irish captain Robbie Keane who flew home to Ireland after his first Indian Super League goal for ATK in a 1-0 win over Delhi Dynamos.