Sport Soccer

Saturday 20 January 2018

Striker crisis: Long facing uphill battle to make play-offs

Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

IRELAND'S striker crisis for next month's crunch play-off against Estonia has intensified, with Shane Long facing a serious uphill battle to have any chance of featuring.

West Brom forward Long suffered a knee injury in Saturday's Premier League clash at Aston Villa after a horror tackle from Alan Hutton, and a scan yesterday suggested that the Tipperary native will be out for up to six weeks.

That still leaves the possibility of recovering in a quicker time-frame, and the player is understood to believe he has a chance of returning before the first leg with Estonia in Tallinn on November 11.

However, the scan showed that the 24-year-old has a small bone chip in his knee, in addition to serious bruising. The positive news was the absence of ligament damage, which was initially suspected.

Nevertheless, the worrying prognosis is another huge setback for Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni, who is already without Kevin Doyle for the first leg and is unsure about the availability of Robbie Keane.

While the Irish skipper is reported to be back running and is in line to feature for LA Galaxy next week, Trapattoni has always warned against rushing players back from muscular problems.

The squad for the Estonian encounters will be named on Friday and it's anticipated that both Keane and Long will be included.

Yet with the all the question-marks, the Italian will have to decide whether to include additional striking cover. Simon Cox, Jonathan Walters and Andy Keogh are the three fit members of his existing panel who are 100pc available for both games at this point.

Trapattoni will have to decide whether to recall Newcastle's Leon Best, after publicly expressing doubts about his work-rate. Toon boss Alan Pardew mounted a strong defence of the frontman in response to the comments.

Irish Independent

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