Shane Long's Southampton rivals have overtaken him this season but Liverpool opportunity looms

Ireland striker will hope to get an opportunity to feature against the Reds in the EFL Cup semi final

Shane Long, Southampton

Southampton's Shane Long during the Premier League match at St Mary's Stadium, Southampton. Picture by Daniel Hambury PA Wire/PA Images

Over the years, Shane Long has never scored against Liverpool in the Premier League.

But the Ireland and Southampton striker has two goals to his name against the Reds in cup competitions.

Back in 2006, he scored once as Reading lost to Liverpool in the third round of the League Cup and while still at the same club, repeated the trick in a third round replay in the FA Cup.

That goal came in extra time, 10 minutes after his 94th minute assist for Gylfi Sigurdsson secured a 1-1 draw in normal time at Anfield.

On Wednesday night, Long and Southampton host Liverpool at a much later stage of the EFL Cup, with two games separating the south coast club from a first appearance in the final of a knockout club competition since their FA Cup decider defeat to Arsenal in 2003.

In the build up to tonight's first leg, Long has found regular playing time hard to come by this season.

Only eight times has the Ireland striker featured from 80 minutes or more in a match this season and two of those have come in the EFL Cup, plus another three in the Europa League group stages.

Only one goal has arrived across all those 24 matches. It's not quite the season one would have expected of the Tipperary man after finishing the last campaign in fine goal scoring form.

He hit double figures in the Premier League last season, helped by a run of five goals in 10 games towards the end of the campaign.

 

Charlie Austin and Jay Rodriguez look dejected after their defeat against Hull City the Premier League match at the KCOM Stadium, Hull. Picture by Richard Sellers PA Wire/PA Images

But Charlie Austin looms large when one looks at Long's place in the pecking order. Previously, the 29 year old competed with Italy international Graziano Pelle until he left for the lucrative league of China.

But in January 2016, Austin arrived from QPR and initially at least, struggled to get meaningful game time amid injuries.

But this season has been different, with the Englishman already on nine goals for the season, including six in the Premier League.

That's despite starting the season coming off the bench, with Long up front initially with Nathan Redmond ahead of a diamond.

Having scored the previous week against Swansea as Southampton won their first match of the campaign at the fifth attempt, it was the following fixture at West Ham when Austin ultimately leapfrogged Long and rewarded Southampton manager Claude Puel with a goal and an assist.

However, Southampton have now been without Austin since mid-December when he picked up a serious shoulder injury.

Yet Long has not been the one to benefit from Austin's unfortunate setback. He has made just two starts over the last six league matches that Austin has missed.

Instead, Jay Rodriguez, who has had unfortunate injury setbacks of his own, has found favour as the lone centre-forward, scoring twice against Bournemouth in mid-December.  

Long was thrown on in the 93rd minute of that match in place of Rodriguez which is pretty zero time to show what he can do.

The Irishman doesn't fear a challenge but with the nature of football speculation, when a player is struggling for game time, they get linked with moves away.

In Long's case, his former clubs Hull City and West Brom have been mooted as potential destinations. Hull appear among the favourites to get relegated which would make that a risk as Long is more than good enough to play in the Premier League for some time to come.

West Brom are a club on a high but he would face the challenge of trying to get past Samuel Rondon in the pecking order. Not impossible but also tough to do if it were a mid-season January transfer.

Also with World Cup qualifiers on the horizon again in March, upheaval is not necessarily welcome.  

In the short term though, if he can get a start at Liverpool and find the net, it could go a long way to pushing higher up in Puel's estimations. 

From an Irish perspective, one has to hope that comes to pass.