Stepping Up: Shane Long defends from the front for West Bromwich Albion
It’s a tradition the club is proud of and in recent times managers such as Tony Mowbray and Roberto di Matteo have enjoyed success playing an expansive game. But this wasn’t the reason Roy Hodgson committed to paying as much as £6.5million for Shane Long in the summer – Long was bought to give West Brom a new dimension.
The former Reading man has certainly made an impressive impact. Goals against Manchester United and Chelsea never do a player much harm but coming as they did in the player’s first two matches for the club it meant Long was already well on the way to hero status. And yet, his contribution to the side is about far more than goals. Long provides an outlet for his team-mates by defending from the front and turning hopeful punts into possession high up the pitch.
His defensive contribution is highlighted by the Opta statistics that show Long made more tackles than any other player on the pitch against Chelsea. He achieved this feat once again in the Black Country derby against Wolves and in the trip to Sunderland only former England international defender Wes Brown won more tackles than Long.
Where there remains room for improvement is in Long’s link-up play. Michael Cox pointed out in his Premier League chalkboard analysis in the Guardian that (excluding the kick-off) Long completed only one pass to his strike-partner Peter Odemwingie against Sunderland. And it’s not just Odemwingie that Long has struggled to link up with. He has completed more than 20 successful passes in a match only once all season.
This chalkboard from the 2-1 defeat to Chelsea illustrates the point that Long’s role for West Brom is more about his contribution without the ball than with it:
Perhaps this says as much about the quality of service Long is receiving from his West Brom team-mates as it does about the man’s ability with the ball at his feet. But then, as Reading fans will be aware, Long is comfortable in an underdog role scrapping for the ball.
At the age of 24, there is time for Shane Long’s game to develop. But for now, Roy Hodgson will be delighted with the contribution of his club’s record signing.