Striker hoping to make up for lost time during 2012/13
SHANE Long is aiming to make up for lost time by hitting double figures this term.
The Republic of Ireland international managed to find the net eight times in the Barclays Premier League in 2011/12 – despite a stop-start final six months which began with a knee injury at Villa.
But the former Reading hitman, who represented the Republic of Ireland at Euro 2012, is now fully fit.
And he is keeping his fingers crossed that his injury troubles are now behind him so that he can impress Steve Clarke and secure a starting berth for the league opener against Liverpool.
“This will be my second season at Albion and we’ve got to try and better our finish last year,” said Long, speaking at the Baggies’ pre-season training base in Malmo.
“My injuries last season were disappointing.
“I felt I was really hitting my stride in the home game against Wolves in October and then the tackle at Villa kind of set me back.
“Then it was one thing after another.
“Luckily, it didn’t cost the club too much. We still finished tenth.
“Towards the end of the season, I got back into the team and started scoring again.
“Hopefully, I can kick on from there and, touch wood, stay injury free and show what I’m about.
“To end up in the top ten was a great season, but we must all look forward now.
“I managed to get eight goals from a fairly injury-prone season so hopefully I can add to that this season, hit double figures and push on from there.
“But for me it’s all about the next game.
“At the moment, it’s all about starting that first game against Liverpool. Hopefully, I can do that.”
One man who knows all about hitting double figures in the Premier League is Peter Odemwingie, who has achieved the feat for two seasons running.
With Marc-Antoine Fortune finishing last term impressively and Simon Cox also on board, Long is expecting a real fight to nail down a regular starting place.
But that is a challenge he says he will rise too – not shy away from.
“It is going to be a battle for starting places,” admitted Long.
“But, as players, it only pushes you on.
“There’s obviously Pete, Marco and Coxy here.
“Saido Berahino’s also coming through and if the club bring anyone else in, it’s only going to add to the competition.
“But the competition will hopefully better me as a player.
“Hopefully, I can step up to the challenge.”
Long has only been working with Clarke for just over a week but says his first impressions of the new head coach are extremely positive.
“The new gaffer seems to know the players well and knows what I’m all about,” he said.
“He rang me while I was at the Euros in Poland and he seemed to know my game pretty well.
“He knows how to utilise me and what my strengths and weaknesses are.
“It’s a new test for me.
“I’ve been lucky enough to work under some brilliant managers in my time, the likes of Brendan Rogers and Steve Coppell, and now there’s another added to the list in the new gaffer.
“They all have different takes on the game and I’m learning every step of the way.
“I’m enjoying my football and hopefully the new gaffer sees me as a starting No.9.”
Long also insists the way Clarke is stamping his authority on the squad betrays the fact this is his first job as a No.1.
“The way he’s come in and spoken to the players, he just seems like a natural to me,” he added.
“Coaching wise, he’s fantastic.
“He knows the game inside out and what he wants his players to do.
“He puts that across well on the training pitch.
“It’s a bit of a change for us and it’s going to take a few games for us to get the hang of it, and get that passing game going, but it’s enjoyable football and I think the lads will really enjoy playing for him.
“He also seems like a no-nonsense kind of guy.
“He tells it like it is and it’s up to the players to go out and do it on the pitch.”
Long netted in Albion’s final game of the season, at home to Arsenal, but then had to settle for just a 15-minute run-out as sub at Euro 2012, as a replacement for Robbie Keane against Croatia – the first of three
The 25-year-old admits he would have liked more game time in Poland but says he was still honoured to represent his country at a major finals.
And Long insists the experience has only made him more determined to help Ireland qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil – and feature more.
“Going to the Euros was an amazing experience,” he said.
“Just to be around the whole set up was fantastic.
“The Irish fans were just unbelievable at the games.
“It’s just disappointing we couldn’t give them a little bit more to shout about results wise and make it a bit more interesting after the first game.
“Not getting more minutes on the pitch was frustrating at the time.
“But then there were seven lads who didn’t even get an appearance so it could have been a lot worse.
“It was just amazing to play for Ireland at the Euros and hopefully I’ll get the chance to make a bigger impact in the future.
“Next time, if we can qualify for Brazil, I’ll hopefully have a good two seasons under my belt going there and really pushing the lads for a starting position.”
Albion’s Euro 2012 trio of Long, Cox and Jonas Olsson were allowed to report back for pre-season training a week later than the rest of the players due to their shortened summer break.
“Pre-season is proving as tough as ever,” added Long.
“I only had four weeks off and we’re now trying to get our fitness levels back up as soon as we can so that we can concentrate on the games.
“We’re doing a bit of catching up compared to the other lads but because we had a lot less time off than them, our fitness levels were probably a bit higher in the first place.
“We’ve still got a bit of topping up to do but we’re nearly there.”