RALPH Hasenhuttl paid tribute to Shane Long after the striker bagged Saints’ first goal in their 2-0 win over Aston Villa on Saturday.

The 33-year-old met Moussa Djenepo’s cross at the near post and guided the ball home with his nether regions to send the south coast side on their way.

Hasenhuttl hailed the Irishman’s performance as “fantastic”, with Stuart Armstrong also scoring with the final kick of the game.

When asked about Long’s contribution, Hasenhuttl said: “We have spoken about having time to speak to the players about their contracts. He showed again that he can score for us and that he works hard for us.

“In general, I must say our four strikers did a fantastic job, even if they didn’t all score.

“It’s a luxury problem for me to have four strikers on the bench fighting for two positions. This is what we need.

Long clearly has a knack for scoring against Villa, as this was his seventh goal in just eight Premier League starts against them.

Despite this, Hasenhuttl said the Republic of Ireland international didn’t make him aware of his prolific record ahead of the tie.

He added: “No but in the first game he also had a very good performance because he is a guy who is going quick behind the last line and this is what you need against this opponent.

“This is why it’s so important to have a player like him.

“He knows that it’s not interesting for me because it doesn’t help if you scored against an opponent in the past.

“It’s more important to have players that are focusing on the game plan we have, and he did that in a fantastic way.

“The dominance we had, especially in the first half, was brilliant. It was by far the best game from our side.”

With West Ham not in action against runaway leaders Liverpool until tomorrow night, Saints moved 10 points clear of the relegation zone with just nine games to play.

The Villa victory has all-but cemented their status as a Premier League side for another season, although Hasenhuttl isn’t getting carried away.

Saints’ boss is satisfied with the gap they’ve established but encouraged his team to further extend it.

 “34 points is maybe not enough so we need more,” continued Hasenhuttl.

“I don’t think about being safe. We have stretched the distance which is good for us.

“We have taken six points against Villa and that was one of our best home games so far.”