With the countdown to June’s crucial Euro 2016 qualifier well and truly under way there’s much more focus on the Irish squad’s performances that you’d normally expect at this stage of the season.

Southampton front man Shane Long certainly made a major case to start against the Scots with a mightily impressive display in his side’s 6-1 victory over a recently resurgent Aston Villa side that featured both Shay Given and Jack Grealish.

Sadio Mane may have stolen the headlines for the Saints, scoring the quickest ever hat-trick in the Premier League but he would not have done so without Long’s hard work and the Irish frontman went on to claim a brace himself.

Long helped to create the second goal of the match as he was quickest to react to a poor back pass, his initial shot was saved by Given in the Villa goal but rebounded kindly for Mane to slot home.

A minute later and it was 2-0 as Long and Mane again combined.

This time Long found space down the left wing and sprinted clear before he picked out Mane with a clever cut-back and the striker found the top-right corner.

The Tipperary man then took centre stage scoring two of his own.

The first came as he pounced quickly to tap home from Graziano Pelle rebound.

Long’s second was undoubtedly the goal of the afternoon as he won the ball himself in midfield, took a couple of steps forward and then, seeing Given off his line, he curled a beautiful looping effort over the stranded goalkeeper from 35 yards out.

It was a miserable afternoon for Given in the Villa goal, although much of the blame could be apportioned to his defence and it was striking that several of the goals came after Given made saves with the Villa defenders unable to clear the loose ball.

Long will certainly have the bragging rights when the Ireland squad meets and he made no secret that he enjoyed getting the better of his international team-mate.

“It makes it a little sweeter that I know how good a 'keeper it is - he’s been one of the best keepers in the Premier League,” the striker told the Southampton website.

“From training against him and playing against him and with him, I think that makes it a bit more special as someone of his quality, but I won’t be bragging because he has too much respect from me.

“I managed to cut across I think it was [Ashley] Westwood, get past the defender and then I saw Shay trying to get back onto his line - and we’ve been watching videos of him sweeping in behind the defenders and doing a really good job of it as well. I just took my chance, connected well with it and it was nice to see it hit the back of the net.”

For Grealish, this was a game that passed him by in midfield as he struggled to get on the ball and when he did so, was quickly targeted by the Southampton defence. The youngster showed decent flashes but it was no surprise when he was substituted late on.

Elsewhere in the Premier League Burnley’s Steven Reid announced his retirement from football.  Reid, capped 23 times for Ireland, joined the Clarets last summer but due to injuries only made seven appearances for the recently relegated club.

"The last 17 years have been incredible and I have been fortunate to have played for some great clubs at Millwall, Blackburn Rovers, West Bromwich Albion and Burnley, as well as representing Ireland and playing at the World Cup,” Reid said.

“Alongside the great memories there have also been the many lows of my well-documented injuries and I feel the time has now come to listen to my body,” he added.

QPR, also already relegated, turned in a decent display to push crisis club Newcastle closer to the drop and it was the half-time introduction of Republic of Ireland Under-19 Reece Grego-Cox that helped turn the game in the Rs’ favour.

Richard Dunne, who has struggled for form since returning to the QPR side from injury, was again someway off his best and along with central defensive partner Steven Caulker was caught napping for Newcastle’s goal as Emmanuel Riviere just ran between the two defenders with ease before blasting the ball home for his first goal for the Magpies.

However, the game turned in the second half with the introduction of Grego-Cox. The young Irish player was fun of pace on purpose and his movement helped to occupy the Newcastle defence, giving the influential Leroy Fer more time and pace on the ball.

Afterwards Dunne was full of praise for Grego-Cox and told the Irish Independent: “Every day I have to mark Reece in training and I always come in with bruises and cuts everywhere. He's launching into tackles and getting stuck in to all of the lads. I just told him to go out and enjoy himself and to do what he has been doing in training.”

Sunderland go into the final match of the season still in the relegation mix and their slip down the table has coincided with a marked drop in form from skipper John O’Shea, and while his side kept a clean sheet as they drew 0-0 against Leicester, the Irish defender was still far from impressive.

O’Shea, who had returned to the first team after missing his side’s last game with a rib injury, looked off the pace and struggling at times to cope with the limited offensive threat of Jamie Vardy and Leonardo Ulloa, who dominated the defender in the air.

Indeed, a poor pass from O’Shea to his goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon almost cost his side a vital point as Andrej Kramaric intercepted the ball in injury time but was unable to steer it home.

Stoke’s trip to already relegated Burnley also finished scoreless in a game that was the very definition of a meaningless end of a season draw. It would be unfair to judge either Glenn Whelan or Jonathan Walters on the basis of a game that at times was played at walking pace.

Walters for his part, put in yet another physical and battling display up front for Stoke, at times bullying the Burnley defenders before he was replaced just before the hour mark. He did create a gilt-edged chance for Mame Biram Diouf which the striker failed to convert.

Whelan, meanwhile, did little of note in an attacking sense but did help to keep things ticking over in midfield at least.

Hull City go into the final day of the Premier League as favourites to take up that final relegation space and if they fail to perform against Manchester United in the same way they did in their 2-0 defeat to Tottenham, they’ll almost certainly be going down.

Paul McShane, Stephen Quinn, David Meyler and Robbie Brady all started for Hull with none of the quartet making any kind of positive impact on the game. None at least could be faulted for their work ethic with Brady and Meyler in particular full of effort but all too often there was no end product.

Meyler tired visibly in the second half, as did Quinn, who saw the game bypass him more and more after the break, while McShane at least came out on top in his personal duel with Harry Kane, even if he was unable to prevent either of the Tottenham goals.

Things went better for the Irish contingent at Everton as Seamus Coleman, James McCarthy and Aiden McGeady all featured in their 2-1 victory over West Ham.

Coleman and McCarthy both started with McGeady being introduced in the closing stages as Everton chased a winner and it was his cross that provided it as Romelu Lukaku headed home to give the Toffees all three points.

Coleman was his usual aggressive self, causing no end of problems down the wings as he offered himself on the overlap, although he was caught out several times by Aaron Cresswell and had to rely on his defensive partners to bail him out when he pushed too far forward.

McCarthy, meanwhile, looked bright and energetic when on the ball and helped to provide that link between midfield and the frontline as he combined well the Aaron Lennon and Lukaku. He was also on hand to muck in defensively when required to do so.

In the Championship play-offs, Wes Hoolahan’s Norwich progressed to the final at the expense of local rivals Ipswich.

There was plenty of Irish representation in Mick McCarthy’s side as Luke Chambers and Daryl Murphy started while Jay Tabb, David McGoldrick and Noel Hunt were introduced as second-half substitutes.

With the tie finely poised at 1-1 from the first leg, the first half was tense and tight as some high intensity football from both sides left little room for quality. However, the game turned five minutes into the second half when Christophe Berra was sent off for a deliberate handball in the box and Hoolahan converted the penalty, sending the goalkeeper the wrong way.

Daryl Murphy then helped to level the scores as he headed down to set up Tommy Smith, who rounded the goalkeeper before scoring.

But that was as good as it got for Ipswich as Norwich made their extra man count and scored two goals in 12 minutes to book their place at Wembley.

The introduction of Tabb, McGoldrick and Hunt could do little to stem the tide although McGoldrick did go close for Ipswich late on.

In the other Championship play-off Brentford duo Alan Judge and Jonathan Douglas could do little to prevent Middlesbrough cruise to a 3-0 victory and a 5-1 win on aggregate.

Judge, who was included in the Ireland squad to face Scotland, was lively in midfield but often found himself outnumbered in the centre by ‘Boro, while Douglas also struggled to get a foothold in a game in which Middlesbrough dominated and were the clearly better side.

Chesterfield’s promotion hopes ended as they went down 3-0 to Preston, losing their League One play-off 4-0 on aggregate.

Former Republic of Ireland international Joe Murphy was in goal for Chesterfield, having signed on an emergency loan from Huddersfield after all three of the Spireites goalkeeper were injured.

It was an inauspicious occasion for Murphy as he gave away a penalty when he needlessly brought down Daniel Johnson on the edge of the penalty area before he was caught well out of position and lobbed from the half-way by Jermaine Beckford.

Jay O’Shea went close to pulling a goal back for Chesterfield but struck the post late on and it would have been little more than a consolation goal.

Former Cork City midfielder Alan Browne was introduced as a second-half substitute for the injured Paul Gallagher and will hope he did enough to stake a claim for a place in the play-off final against Swindon.

Southend United are through to the League Two play-off final where they will face Wycombe Wanderers after they claimed a dramatic injury-time victory over Stevenage, winning 3-1 on the night for a 4-2 aggregate victory.

After a first leg which finished 1-1 the second leg was tied at the same score when Wicklow man Barry Corr missed a penalty for Shrimpers which would have saw them progress to the final.

However, far from shrinking in extra-time Southend rallied and Irish duo Stephen McLaughlin and Michael Timlin both scored to give them a dramatic victory.

McLaughlin, on loan from Nottingham Forest, put his side in the driving seat when he gave them the lead with his powerful header. It was Timlin who had the final say, however.

There had been major doubts whether or not the former Irish Under-21 would be able to play given the horrific head injury he sustained in the first leg which required 15 stitches.

However  he wore a head-guard and declared himself fit and in the final minute of the game, made sure his side would be going through to the final when he surged past the Wycombe defence to slot home.

Afterwards manager Phil Brown paid tribute to his midfielder: “For Michael Timlin to get that goal...dear me! It emphasised the commitment that was shown to try to win the game,” he said.

“I have made some big decisions in my life football-wise and that's probably the biggest, Michael Timlin to play.

“On Sunday he went in for that horrific challenge and their captain's laid out. In the 90th minute here he went into another header with a skullcap on - it was just the bravest performance I've seen from an individual in my managerial time.”

In the other semi-final, former Republic of Ireland international John Sheridan saw his Plymouth Argyle side go down to Wycombe Wanders, losing 2-1 away from home, 5-3 on aggregate. Carl McHugh and Anthony O’Connor both featured for Plymouth but could do little to prevent their side’s defeat with McHugh replaced at half-time.

In Scotland Adam Rooney was once again on the mark as he rescued a 1-1 draw for Aberdeen with an injury-time goal against Dundee.

Rooney has earned a long-awaited place in the Ireland squad with his goalscoring exploits for the Dons this season and he added another strike to his tally, leaving it until the 90th minute to claim his 28th goal of the season with a well taken effort from close range.

Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes had intended to rest Rooney but given his side’s lack of bite in front of goal, introduced him with 30 minutes to go and the striker duly obliged.

In the MLS Robbie Keane’s LA Galaxy were hammered by Sean St Ledger’s Orlando City. Keane missed out through injury but St Ledger played the full 90 minutes and impressed at centre-back, helping to restrict the Galaxy to a single shot on goal.

His manager Adrian Heath had this to say afterwards: “I thought St Ledger and (Seb) Hines were excellent… I thought them two were very, very good when they had to be and they made really good decisions when they had to.

"They didn’t play where they didn’t need to and played where they should’ve done. I thought the back four was excellent today.”