Long targets lead role in Ireland's play-off campaign

Albion attacker confident improved form can earn reward from his international manager
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Shane Long has set his sights on forcing his way in the Republic of Ireland's starting line-up for the Euro 2012 play-off with Estonia with his performances for West Bromwich Albion.

Long was disappointed not to be included in the starting line-up for the decisive group match with Armenia in Dublin last week in which Ireland secured a runners-up spot. But the suspension of Kevin Doyle for the first leg of the play-off, and doubts over the fitness of Robbie Keane, have given Long an extra incentive ahead of next month's fixtures.

He impressed again for Albion during Sunday's 2-0 win over Wolverhampton Wanderers at the Hawthorns. He said: "It was disappointing not to play against Armenia but it was the right result. We now have Estonia in the play-offs and hopefully we can get to the Euros and make it a good summer next year.

"There are a lot of games for West Brom before that so hopefully I can stake my claim in those games. People say I've got a great chance to start, with Kevin Doyle suspended and Robbie Keane injured.

"Kevin is missing and I would like to think I am a natural replacement for him. But I thought I may start the last game as well, and it wasn't to be, so we will have to see what happens.

"Hopefully I can keep doing what I am doing here at West Brom, keep putting in performances, and the Irish manager [Giovanni Trapattoni] will take note. The manager didn't say why I didn't play against Armenia. He just told me I was on the bench and to make sure to be ready if I was needed."

Long has impressed the Albion defender Gareth McAuley with the quality of his performances since moving from Reading during the summer.

McAuley said: "I've played against Longy a few times and he gets around, wins his headers. He's a pest in a good way for us, creates opportunities for other players and gets his own share of goals.

"He puts in a great shift. When he is doing that, we can try and get up the pitch because the opposition are always under pressure. It is great for us that he is doing that. He is a great outlet."

Long's team-mate Peter Odemwingie has been given a vote of confidence by head coach Roy Hodgson and told he is "one of the players the counts", despite being dropped for the derby with Wolves.

Hodgson left Odemwingie out of the starting line-up on Sunday after being unsure he would recover from an ankle problem and illness in time for the game. It was another setback for Odemwingie, who felt he was "over-blamed" for Nigeria's failure to qualify for the African Nations Cup.

But Hodgson has reassured Odemwingie of his importance at club level after he came off the bench to score the second goal .

Odemwingie said: "The coach [Hodgson] said he wasn't sure from the Monday beforehand that I would play in the Wolves game. I came back [from Nigeria] with a little bit of a cough and cold and didn't train for five days.

"I was disappointed because the derby is a game you want to play in because if you do well for the club and for the fans you are the man. But I saw the reasons for what he said and he encouraged me. He said I should remove all the doubts about myself.

"He said: 'All I should know is that I am one of the players that counts, that I was good and I shouldn't doubt anything.'

"That was a lift and after my goal all of my team-mates came running to and saying: 'You deserve this.' That really lifted me up."

Odemwingie was stung by the criticism he received over Nigeria's failure to reach the African Nations Cup finals in the new year.

He said: "It's been tough. My country is so big and we didn't qualify for the African Nations Cup and football means so much to them. There were critics looking for reasons and I felt a little bit over-blamed for the team's failure to qualify. It was a collective effort.

"I think the personal criticism was more about my relationship with the manager. I think that's what caused this situation. I was always appreciated and supported in the national team because I play and give 100 per cent for the team.

"But I had a little dispute with the coach and he has a lot of support in Nigeria so there was a little negative reaction to it."

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