Shane Long can prove barren days are behind him with start against Leicester

This time last year, Shane Long's stock had never been higher.

Long was in the middle of the most prolific goal-scoring season of his Premier League career -- having just demolished title-chasing Arsenal -- and en route to hitting double figures in the top flight for the first time.

With Southampton's No. 1 front man Graziano Pelle suffering from a lack of form prompted by a spate of injuries, Long's goals were the single biggest factor in the club achieving Europa League qualification.

His newfound finishing prowess also made him the Republic of Ireland's first-choice striker for the upcoming Euro 2016 Championship in France. So good was Long's form that the former West Brom and Reading ace was attracting interest from a host of top clubs; Saturday's visitors Leicester, then on their way to the most improbable championship win in English football history, among them.

Suddenly, the £11 million it cost Ronald Koeman to prise Long away from Hull City 18 months previously looked like bargain of the century.

Indeed, when Southampton rewarded Long with a big-money contract over the summer to fend off his suitors, the decision appeared a no-brainer and was warmly received by supporters fearing another big-name departure from the south coast.

Fast forward 12 months and it is a completely different picture.

Long's scruffy stoppage-time winner in Wednesday's nervy FA Cup third-round replay win at home to Norwich reserves was only his second goal of a largely forgettable season, only the third he has mustered for club or country since May following a poor showing at the Euros.

Where the guitar-loving Long once had the league's best defenders dancing to his tune, he has now hit a few bum notes.

There was a moment before his dramatic late strike -- which spared Saints the unwanted headache of extra time and saved St Mary's lowest crowd of the season from watching another 30 minutes of a truly terrible match -- that epitomised his change in fortunes.

A mistake in an underworked Norwich defence presented Long with the opportunity to go one-on-one with goalkeeper Michael McGovern. But where last term he would have picked out the bottom corner, Long hesitated -- his confidence visibly effected by his recent drought -- and opted instead to pull the ball back for Josh Sims, who chipped a shot over the crossbar.

The question Saints followers are asking themselves is why Long has suffered such a dramatic decline. The answer, like with so many of their problems, can be traced back to manager Claude Puel's much-maligned squad rotation policy.

Claudio Ranieri used to be known as the tinker man, but Puel has taken that tag to a whole new level to steal the crown from this weekend's opposite number, making no fewer than 187 changes in personnel in only 32 matches in charge.

It is a quite staggering statistic and Long and his fellow forwards have been the main victims.

Take Jay Rodriguez for example. Having recently rediscovered his scoring touch and worked tirelessly in the first leg of Southampton's surprise EFL Cup semifinal win at home to Liverpool, he could have been forgiven for feeling more than a little frustrated to find himself benched for last weekend's visit to former club Burnley.

So too Charlie Austin, who despite banging in goals for fun at the start of the season, could not be sure if he would be starting from one week to the next.

Strikers, more than any other player, thrive on playing when they are at the top of their game. That is why Long has to start against the champions and be given the chance by Puel to prove his barren days are behind him.