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Long looks to fill Doyle's boots and help Republic bounce back

Shane Long has told Giovanni Trapattoni he is ready to lead the line for the Republic of Ireland in their crucial qualifier against Slovakia tonight.

The Republic, who are looking to bounce back from Friday's 3-2 defeat by Russia in Dublin, were dealt a major blow when the striker Kevin Doyle was ruled out of the match in Zilina with a knee problem. With manager Trapattoni seemingly committed to playing two up front, either Long or Doyle's Wolves team-mate Andy Keogh looks certain to start.

And it is Reading's 23-year-old striker who looks the favourite after coming off the bench to score the Republic's second goal on Friday. Long said: "Nothing's set in stone yet but I'd love to get a run. It's a massive thing to play for your country and I've only started once for Ireland in a competitive game.

"If I get the nod, I'll be ready. It's nice coming off the bench when the other team's a little bit tired but I feel like I've been playing well for my club and it's nice to show what you're about.

"With the players we have in the squad, when you do get the chance you've got to take it. That adds to your own game a bit when you know it's now or never, you go out and give it your all and, hopefully, it's enough."

The Republic go into the match level with Slovakia and Russia on six points, and Long admitted the stakes have now been raised ahead of what is expected to be one of the most difficult matches of the campaign. He said: "It's not nice to lose at home, but if we get a win in Slovakia it will redeem things a bit. Three from six points [on offer in this last round of matches] wouldn't look so bad."