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21st Aug 2018

Shane Long linked with drop to Championship but Mark Hughes wants to keep him

Patrick McCarry

Mark Hughes was a pretty decent striker back in his day and he can see where Shane Long is coming from.

Hughes was a few months shy of his 32nd birthday when he made the decision to leave Manchester United and seek regular first-team football at Chelsea. Alex Ferguson wanted the Welshman to stick around Old Trafford but could not guarantee he would be in the starting XI each week.

Now manager of Southampton, Hughes is hopeful that Shane Long will do what he refused to, as a player, and settle for a support role.

After a fruitful start to life at St Mary’s, Long has struggled to find the net. His goalscoring returns from the last two seasons are five from 45 games and two from 34. That’s seven goals in 79 appearances and, quite frankly, far short of where the Ireland international should be.

The 31-year-old has often been tasked with chasing and harrying defenders and playing a lone role up front so the poor return is not all on him. Still, there is a sense that long’s time at Southampton could be winding down and Aston Villa boss Steve Bruce is reportedly keen on securing a loan deal to take him to the Championship.

The Saints boss can understand his frustrations – he has played 32 minutes after two Premier League games – but he is hopeful the Tipperary native will stick it out. Hughes said:

“I’ve explained to the guys that didn’t play that it’s not a reflection on me thinking I don’t need them or they’re not in my plans because that’s not the case.

“I think players, unfortunately – and it happened in my day – when they are not in the first 11 for the first game of the season all of a sudden they get a little bit anxious and think maybe my future lies elsewhere and agents are telling them they’ve got to move. And that’s not the case with Shane and the likes of Steven Davis.

“They’re very much part of what we’re going to do this year and I just said to them, ‘At the end of the year, you’ll look back on the season and you’ll find that you’ve played many, many games so bear with me’.”

Not many Championship clubs would have a budget that could comfortable cope with Long’s salary but, fortunately for him, Villa are well set after being taken over by new owners.