Shane Long has always put the team first, in a Southampton career spanning more than 200 appearances. Today, on the fifth anniversary of his Anfield heroics, we pay tribute to the selfless front man by picking out his finest moments…
Joining Saints on the eve of the 2014/15 season, Long was used primarily as a substitute by manager Ronald Koeman in the early weeks of the campaign, and was still waiting for his first Premier League goal for his new club by the start of November. Breaking his duck in the Capital One Cup victory at Stoke 10 days earlier, the Irishman was ready to make his mark when summoned from the bench with 22 minutes to go against Leicester at St Mary’s. The game was goalless until Long made the difference, breaking the deadlock with a perfectly-placed left-footed shot from Graziano Pellè’s lay-off, before wrapping up the points by slotting past Kasper Schmeichel five minutes later.
“I remember we were struggling to score. It was one of those games when we just couldn’t get the breakthrough, but sometimes some fresh legs off the bench can make an impact. To get both goals was an amazing feeling.”
Saints served up a Boxing Day classic to brush aside Arsenal, who were hunting a fifth straight win only to be blown away at St Mary’s. Whilst the game is rightly remembered for Cuco Martina’s first-half screamer – an outrageous half-volley that bent like a boomerang to beat Petr Čech – it was the first of Long’s brace that took the game away from the Gunners, combining with Sadio Mané and stroking the ball home to double Saints’ lead. José Fonte made it 3-0, before Long raced through in typical style, latching on to Dušan Tadić’s defence-splitting pass to fire through Čech’s legs and put the icing on the cake for Koeman and co.
“There was pressure on me, because Grazi (Pellè) was injured, I was thrown in up front and it was time to step up. They were big boots to fill, but I managed to get the two goals and I think I went on a bit of a scoring run after that.”
Even when Long does something brilliant, he’d rather someone else took the glory, and so it proved in Saints’ final home game of his debut season. His second of two goals against Aston Villa was sumptuous – a 35-yard dipping, curling shot to catch out long-time Republic of Ireland teammate Shay Given in the Villa goal. Long’s stunner made the score 5-0 in the first half on a day to remember for the capacity crowd inside St Mary’s, but it was Mané who was the headline act with his record-breaking hat-trick, scored in 2 minutes 56 seconds. Long assisted two of them, scored two of his own and left his teammate to take all the attention. Perfect.
“They were playing a high defence with Shay acting as a sweeper, so I was told to be aware that he could be off his line. I couldn’t have connected any better with that, and it flew into the goal. Bad knee slide though – it was too dry that day!”
This time there was no avoiding the media glare, as Long became the talk of the Premier League by smashing a record that had stood for 19 years. Since 2000, former Tottenham defender Ledley King had been the proud scorer of the competition’s fastest-ever goal, timed at 9.82 seconds, but Long followed Mané into the history books after just 7.69 seconds at Vicarage Road. Charging down a clearance from Watford defender Craig Cathcart straight from kick-off, Long went eye to eye with former West Brom teammate Ben Foster, keeping his composure to lift a delicate chip over the keeper and giving Saints the earliest of leads.
“At the time I didn’t think much of it. Only after the game, with the amount of attention I was getting from the media, did I realise it was a big deal. The longer time goes on, the more I appreciate that record.”
It had to be, didn’t it? Arriving midway through his six-year stay with Saints, this remains the Shane Long moment, and one of Saints’ finest moments of all. Leading 1-0 from the first leg of the EFL Cup semi-final, Claude Puel took his team to Anfield, knowing Jürgen Klopp’s side would not go quietly. Having wasted chances to put the tie to bed, Saints were coming under increasing pressure and had Fraser Forster to thank for a miraculous save that kept their clean sheet intact. Just as the game entered stoppage time, Liverpool won a corner, Saints cleared and Josh Sims surged forward on the counter. Feeding fellow substitute Long to his right, the Irishman took a touch and drove an unerring shot across goalkeeper Loris Karius in an iconic moment that will be remembered for generations.
“We had everything to lose, defending our 1-0 lead, and we rode our luck at times. It was nice to finish it and amazing that it was in front of our own fans – the whole place was bouncing. We all knew we were going to the final.”