Among the most eye catching statistics that have defined Shane Long’s excellent season is that he has scored or assisted in every one of West Brom’s seven home games. The entire team’s outstanding Hawthorns form under manager Steve Clarke has been a key factor in helping Long achieve this feat, while keen competition for places up front is also keeping the Irishman on his toes, with Chelsea loanee Romelu Lukaku, Marc Antoine-Fortune and Markus Rosenberg all waiting in the wings.
Although Long is clearly the top choice striker and has played more minutes than his attacking rivals, Gameweek 14 served as a timely reminder that no one in the West Brom ranks is free from a slap in the face from the fickle hand of rotation. An unused sub during that game, Long watched on as his team suffered a 3-1 away defeat to Swansea.
In all likelihood, this is down to a hamstring issue that has been plaguing the player all season. Despite Clarke’s declaration that he has no concerns over his fitness, it’s likely that this weekend’s home derby against Stoke had a significant bearing in his team line-up last night:
“I’ll make the changes from game to game as and when I think I should make the changes. If Shane has to play 90 minutes he can play 90 minutes no problem. He can play two in four days and three in a week if I need him but then I’d have to manage the training.”
The Baggies subsequent defeat at Swansea may just persuade Clarke that Long is a player he cannot afford to rest or rotate. The last time he failed to make the starting 11 in a Premier League fixture, during the Gameweek 5 home victory with Reading, he came on as a 65th minute sub to register an assist for the game’s only goal, suggesting that even if dropped he still has a chance to shine.
The standing of the opposition also fails to dent Long’s confidence at home, with Champions League holders Chelsea falling to the West Brom sword in Gameweek 11, when he racked up 12 points in the Fantasy Premier League (FPL) game after scoring and assisting in a valiant 2-1 victory. He also accrued maximum FPL bonus points that week.
As if such home reliability wasn’t enough to tempt managers, there are signs that Long is also able to produce on the road. Two of his five goals this campaign have come away from the Hawthorns, with his strike against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light during West Brom’s 4-2 victory in Gameweek 13 the latest to prove Long may deserve to start every game.
Already this season Long is the sixth best striker in the Sky Sports game, where he is priced at 7.7m and sits on 64 points. In the FPL game he is priced even more generously at 6.3m and has 63 points, making him the eighth best striker and the joint best West Brom asset alongside midfielder James Morrison. Despite his consistency, he is owned by just over 6% of FPL managers, though the Republic of Ireland international clearly offers a strong mid-price alternative to the likes of Steven Fletcher, Dimitar Berbatov and Rickie Lambert up top.
With three home games in the next four gameweeks (STO, ars, WHU, NOR) Long looks to be a safe bet for points in the short term. Even West Brom’s Christmas matches from Boxing Day to New Year’s Day (qpr, man, FUL) offer the prospect of points. Clearly, this is shaping up to be the Irish international’s best season yet – he has already matched last term’s bonus tally of nine in the FPL game and is well on course to surpass his final FPL points total for 2011/12 of 97.