Reading 2 Newcastle United 1: Ireland rumpus overshadows Long's impact

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The Independent Football

Like any good professional, Shane Long likes to do what he is told. A few weeks ago he went along with an apparent cover-up that would help his country's cause, or so he thought, and on Saturday he scored the winning goal within 10 seconds of coming on as a substitute. No questions asked, but a few answers given.

The one that may yet cost John Delaney, the Football Association of Ireland's chief executive, his job – so soon after he relieved Steve Staunton of his – was Long's admission that the powers-that-be informed him that they were going to tell the media that the reason for his withdrawal from the squad to face Cyprus was a groin injury.

In fact, this was a completely fictitious medical bulletin as the Reading manager, Steve Coppell, later confirmed and the real factor behind Long's hasty exit was down to a suspension rumpus.

It is a complex case, but basically what happened was that Long was on the bench in last month's international against Slovakia when he should not have been. A five-match ban he picked up in an under-19s international counted for that match as well as for the qualifier against Cyprus.

Because Long did not come on against Slovakia the FAI were only fined by Uefa, but would have lost a point if he had played just one second. Fearing an outcry, the Irish camp felt obliged to invoke the phantom injury and the 20-year-old was persuaded to go along with it. "I was told all right, yeah, but I think they have their reasons for everything and I just said OK, fair enough, and let's get on with it," said Long. "I just kept my head down and concentrated on my football back here."

Alas, the affair has resurfaced and the recriminations will inevitably follow. Delaney has refused to comment saying it would be "inappropriate" when "there is a review in process", but whatever happens it is only fair that Long will escape punishment. The manner in which he sprinted on to the Madejski turf on Saturday to steal in behind the Newcastle defence and fire it into the roof of net, certainly suggested a young man with not a care in the world.

"The gaffer told me to go on and grab the winner so I did," he said. It took him 9.2 seconds and made up for the visitors' fortunate own-goal equaliser.

A point would have been far more than Sam Allardyce's side deserved. The manner in which he talked about a record on the road that now stands at four defeats in succession hinted at a lack of confidence that appears whenever Newcastle are anywhere else than St James'. "One team at home, another team away," summed up Allardyce's assistant, Nigel Pearson.

If only Reading were so predictable. In the last four games, they conceded seven at Portsmouth one weekend, won the next, conceded four at Blackburn the following and won this time. They are now on the same points tally, 13, as they were at this stage last season. Some "second-season" syndrome, that.

Goals: Kitson 53 (1-0); Duberry 76 og (1-1); Long 84 (2-1).

Reading (4-4-2): Hahnemann; Murty (Rosenior 86), Sonko, Duberry, Shorey; Doyle, Gunnarsson, Harper, Hunt; Lita (Long, 84), Kitson. Substitutes not used: Federici (gk), Ingimarsson, Convey.

Newcastle United (4-4-2): Given, Beye, Faye (Milner 74), Cacapa, Jose Enrique; Geremi, Barton, Butt (N'Zogbia 58), Emre; Martins (Smith 58), Owen. Substitutes not used: Harper (gk), Rozehnal.

Referee: Phil Dowd (Staffordshire).

Booked: Newcastle Faye

Man of the match: Doyle.

Attendance: 24,119.