The final member of our Team of the Decade to be revealed is striker number two, Shane Long. The Irishman received 71.2% of the votes in our poll, meaning he finished second behind Adam Le Fondre, but still way ahead of Yann Kermorgant (26.6%), Jason Roberts (20.7%), Noel Hunt (4.9%) and Pavel Pogrebnyak (0.5%).
Of course Long joined Reading along with compatriot Kevin Doyle in the summer of 2005 from Cork City for a combined fee of just £66,000. Just 18 at the time, he was limited to mainly substitute appearances that season as the Royals won the Championship with a record points total, before working his way into a starting role over the next few years. But as this is the Team of the 2010s, we’ll focus only on Long’s performances in that period.
The striker began the new decade by scoring the winning goal in extra-time at Anfield as Reading knocked Liverpool out of the FA Cup (more on that below), before going on a run of seven goals in six games - including a brace to defeat Plymouth Argyle 2-1 in the league and another two to put the Royals 2-0 up at half-time against Aston Villa in the FA Cup quarter-final.
But it was the 2010-11 campaign that we really saw the best of Shane Long. His 25 goals in 52 games won him the club’s Player of the Season award as Reading made it to the Championship play-off final. It was in the second half of the season that the striker was particularly unstoppable, with spectacular strikes against Middlesbrough, QPR and Portsmouth being the stand-out moments.
The 24-year-old was the star of the show against Cardiff City in the play-off semi-final too, netting twice in a 3-0 second leg away win after the goalless draw at the Madejski. His first goal in South Wales was a delightful 20-yard lob following a mistake from Bluebirds goalkeeper Stephen Bywater, while his second was a calmly taken penalty to put the Royals two goals up at half-time.
Although Reading would be resigned to another season in the Championship after defeat to Swansea at Wembley, it was clear that Long was destined for the Premier League. In August 2011 he was snapped up by West Bromwich Albion for a reported £4.5 million, with an extra £2 million in add-ons. His final goal tally in Berkshire stood at 54 goals in 203 games - 34 of those coming from 2010 onwards, making him the club’s second top scorer this decade behind Le Fondre.
One of the academy’s greatest successes, Long has remained in the top-flight ever since his departure, featuring for Hull City and currently Southampton, and in April this year scored the fastest goal in Premier League history after 7.69 seconds against Watford. He has also amassed 82 caps for the Republic of Ireland, scoring 17 goals and featuring at Euro 2012.
Memorable moment: Scoring the winner in extra-time at Anfield in the FA Cup
Long hadn’t actually scored in the 2009/10 season ahead of Reading’s FA Cup third round replay against Liverpool in January, having been sparsely used by Brendan Rodgers. But as would soon become clear, he thrived under Brian McDermott - starting with this goal on a historic night at Anfield.
The Irishman had been key to sending the tie to extra-time in the first place, as he was fouled by Yossi Benayoun in the box to win the penalty that Gylfi Sigurdsson tucked away in second half stoppage time.
In fairness, Long largely has Brynjar Gunnarsson to thank for what happened next. The Icelander worked his way around one defender with a cheeky Cruyff turn, nutmegged Emiliano Insua and crossed a perfect ball into the box, which Long met with a close-range glancing header into the far corner. It secured Reading’s first ever win at Anfield and a place in the fourth round.