Tag Archives: Matt Smith

Sky TV’s Jeremy Langdon “In Therapy” After Leeds Thrash Wasteful Fulham – by Rob Atkinson

A despondent Jeremy Langdon of Sky Sports - bless him.

A despondent Jeremy Langdon of Sky Sports – bless him.

The look on his face would have brought a tear to a glass eye; that deep and worsening misery, as things went from bad to worse for Fulham, was writ large in every line of his suffering face – his doleful expression enough to curdle milk. Who?? I hear you ask. Ross McCormack, maybe, or Matt Smith? Both would have hoped for a happier time of it against their erstwhile employers. Having striven with might and main to succeed and justify the transfer fees Leeds had extorted out of the Cottagers, the striking pair fired a succession of blanks between them, Mr. McContract eventually limping off with a suspected knee injury. Doubtless he’ll have been reflecting that this was not the Fulham he’d fallen in love with at that first, romantic meeting between greedy turncoat striker and pink, pretty, blushing new payslip.

But no – despite the horrendous evening that both of these former United hitmen undoubtedly endured, the man who cut the saddest and most tragic figure of all was surely the Sky Sports News live match reporter, Jeremy Langdon. He looked as though he’d lost a bob, found sixpence and been bereaved of his closest friends and family, all while nursing a severe case of strangulated piles. Poor, despairing man. We must surely be big enough in victory to send him all the very best of wishes for his eventual recovery, as he heads for the restorative therapy of counselling, medication and electrodes. The increasingly glum and despondent look on Langdon’s face offered up little hope of him ever smiling again. It had been a truly dreadful night for anyone without Leeds in their blood.

But, for the rest of us – those with the sequence LUFC repeating itself ad infinitum throughout our sporting DNA – tonight was a small miracle as well as a huge celebration. For a start, we won. And not only did we win – we well won, 3-0 away at a club that was taking both the mick and several liberties not too long back. And not only that – we absolutely scored, from a corner, yet – and new hero Sol Bamba got off the mark as a Leeds scorer with that second breakthrough. With Sam Byram having got matters off to a satisfactory start with a powerful header in the dying minutes of the first half, and Mirco Antenucci rubbing the Fulham’s noses in it with a scuffed finish late on – and a sending off for home defender Kostas Stafylidis  – all it would then have taken was a Steve Morison goal to have us pinching ourselves to wake from what would assuredly have been one of those – ahem – “special” dreams. Noctis mirabilis? Abso-bloody-lutely.

If anything can add that extra bit of piquant charm to a 3-0 win away from home, it’s the undeniable fact that the scoreline hardly tells the full story. Fulham could and should have had a hatful themselves but, sure enough, the old firm of McCormack & Smith, “Howlers, we make ’em”, were on the kind of form to make us all send up prayers of thanks that we ever managed to offload them. Poor old Ross had the ball in the net at one point, but brilliantly managed to be offside in the process, much to his amusing anguish. And there has to be some feeling that he actually sustained the injury which eventually saw him subbed, in violently protesting to the ref after Stafylidis saw red. 

Fellow flop Matt Smith must be suspected in some quarters of still being on the Elland Road payroll, such was the sublime insouciance with which he spurned several gift-wrapped, gilt-edged golden chances. Our shot-stopper par excellence, Marco Silvestri should also be accorded a massive chunk of credit; for when any Fulham shirt did threaten to get one on target, there was Signor Marco, proud and defiant, thwarting them like a good’un. It was lovely, deeply satisfactory stuff.

Leeds coach Neil Redfearn commented afterwards that Leeds could have won by a massive 6-0, such was our dominance late on – but, really, it could just as easily have been 6-6 and a tie breaker. Thoughts of a 6-0 win for Leeds would, in any event, have brought with them fears for the grieving Sky reporter Langdon’s very existence.

It’s tempting to say – if only it had mattered more, or counted for something. The play-offs, after all, remain a distant and seemingly unattainable Holy Grail – we’d need a miracle of Steve Morison hat-trick proportions to get anywhere near that particular Promised Land. But the evening may not have been utterly without meaning; Fulham will now be looking nervously over their shoulders at the relegation dogfight just a few points behind them. If Wigan can rally; if McCormack’s injury rules him out; and if Fulham themselves succumb to trapdoor nerves – then this season might, after all, have a riotously funny, Schadenfreude ending of maliciously comic satisfaction. You just never know – but you can always pray for such a rewardingly humorous outcome.

In our comfortable and complacent mid-table security, it’s nice to have something devoutly to hope for in the unseemly battle beneath us. Apart from happier times for poor dear Jeremy Langdon, of course. Honestly. His tragic little face….

 

Matt Smith to Kick On for Leeds United Next Season – by Rob Atkinson

Matt Smith - massive potential

Matt Smith – massive potential

It tended to get slightly lost amongst all the hype and hyperbole surrounding Ross McCormack’s 29 goal annus mirabilis – but Matt Smith, last summer’s signing from Oldham, had a quiet little miracle year of his own last season, though used sparingly – as often off the bench as a starter – but to what stunning effect.

The bare facts of Smith’s first season at Elland Road are that he made 20 league starts, 19 appearances as a sub and scored 13 goals.  Even if you lumped the sub and starting appearances together to get 13 goals from 39 games, that represents only just under one goal every three games – no mean feat for a player equipped to act predominantly as a target man, providing flick-ons and knock-downs for smaller and nippier strikers.  The other factor, of course, is that this was Smith’s first season at Championship level and therefore a decided learning curve.  And he did learn – you could see it happening.  As the season progressed, he gained in confidence and know-how, becoming a more effective performer the more games he got under his belt.

Playing with (nominally) better players must have been of assistance to the lanky forward as well, but it should be remembered that Matt Smith was performing well in a team that, generally, under-performed and frequently struggled. There were glaring functional deficiencies in the Leeds United team unit, for the whole duration of the campaign.  Service from the wings – the meat and drink of any tall striker – was sporadic and disappointing, the loan signings of Kebe and Stewart being, by common consent, failures. There were times as well that the whole team looked shapeless and clueless, and Smith especially was frequently called upon from the bench to provide a Plan B for a side that had shot its bolt and was floundering horribly – this happened on far too many occasions last year.

Apart from that one notorious lapse at Sheffield Wednesday, when Smith came on as the obvious remedy to an appalling first-half display – only to be sent off after sixty or so seconds – the former Oldham forward generally made as much of an impact late on in games as might be expected, particularly given his inexperience and the pressure of performing for a club like Leeds, a pressure that saw some of his club-mates, notably Noel Hunt, fail to make any real impact.

Based on what we saw of him last season – and subject to any further signings yet to be made in the forward areas – I would expect to see Matt Smith build on a highly promising first season and look to secure for himself a regular starting berth, perhaps as part of a “Little & Large” up-front pairing. Even if the recruitment drive heralds the arrival of more forwards at the club, I’m convinced that Smith will play his part – the improvement in his game throughout last season gives ample cause for such optimism, and the fact that Premier League Crystal Palace came sniffing around speaks volumes for his potential too. It should be remembered as a fact of some significance that, only the season before he joined Leeds, Smith gave the Liverpool defence a terrible time in an FA Cup tie at Boundary Park, scoring twice as the Reds were knocked out by three goals to two.

Matt Smith can be the type of forward that any defence will simply hate playing against.  He is blessed with the height and physique which will enable him to bully defenders, imposing his game on them, roughing them up and getting his head to the ball as often as possible.  He just needs to be that crucial bit wilier, so as to concede fewer free kicks when refs feel he’s being a little too combative – but that will come with experience.  He is a good finisher, surprisingly adept on the floor for such a tall guy – and he has that attitude, a bit of a mean streak, which so endears any player in a white shirt to the demanding fans at Elland Road. We do love a trier, someone who wears his heart on his sleeve.  Matt Smith has those qualities, and he will have learned much from his on-field partnership with Ross McCormack. But the Scot is gone now, and Smith will have to work with new partners and, perhaps, be a little more selfish, looking to create and take chances for himself.

The King is dead – long live King Matt?  It would not surprise me at all.

Disappointment at Huddersfield – Can Marius Zaliukas Steady the Ship for Leeds? – by Rob Atkinson

New Boy Marius Zaliukas

New Boy Marius Zaliukas

Another derby day defeat, another three goals conceded, this time against a team shorn of their top scorer due to suspension.  There were some crumbs of comfort: Matt Smith scored again, and could prove to be a handful for Championship defences as the season goes on.  Dexter Blackstock came on from the bench for his United debut, and he scored too, which is a great way to start with a new club.  We probably should have had a penalty, we scored one of their goals for them – and last but not least, we’ve signed an international central defender who captained Hearts to a Scottish Cup win.

Marius Zaliukas has been without a club since the summer, but played for his country only last week.  He was wanted by ‘Arry at QPR and nobody has had anything worse to say about the lad than that he’s got a bit of a temper on him.  At 29, he’s in his prime as a defender, and we’ve got him initially till the end of the season.  Yay.

It’s looking likely that Marius will have an active role to play at Elland Road sooner rather than later.  Our defence didn’t look exactly comfortable at times in the second half against Birmingham, even though we recorded a clean sheet in a 4-0 win.  Three at the back, if that’s how we’re to continue, will demand a decent pool of centre backs to allow for inconveniences such as suspensions and injuries.  It seems that Messrs Pearce and Lees were culpable in at least two of the three we let in from our chip-on-the-shoulder bearing neighbours down the road, so maybe an injection of international know-how and experience is just what the doctor ordered.

From all accounts, the boy might be a tiny bit aggressive, but again that’s more virtue than vice down Elland Road way.  Since the days of Norman the Great – in fact tracing our illustrious club’s history back as far as Wilf Copping – we’ve always appreciated a lad who understands the tactical subtleties of “getting stuck in” and “getting rid”. Marius Zaliukas sounds like he might be just our cup of Yorkshire Tea and it goes without saying that we wish him well.

If we can get the defence sorted out, and if we can convert a few more of the chances that we again created in reasonably great number today, maybe things can still look up in time for this season to mean something.  Well, anyway, that’s the positive spin on another disappointing day for Leeds United Football Club and its devoted army of fans.

It’s Yeovil next, and they beat Forest today.  Bring it on.

Brilliant, United!! Leeds Utd 4, Birmingham City 0 – by Rob Atkinson

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Cometh the hour, cometh the Beast.  As Leeds United vaulted out of the doldrums with a display of all-round excellence against Birmingham City today, it was action-man skipper Rudy Austin who was their drive and inspiration.  You can pick any cliché you like to describe the excellence of Austin’s bionic performance.  He gave 110%.  He covered every blade of grass.  He was a powerhouse in midfield, a last-ditch impassable obstacle in defence – he even found time to score the goal that provided United with a precious breathing space they’ve enjoyed all too rarely in recent times.

All that said, this was no one-man show.  From back to front, from top to bottom, Leeds were bang up for it today and would have beaten far better teams than Birmingham City, who were simply blown away by the hunger, commitment and endeavour of the Whites’ frankly voracious performance.  From the kick off, United set a tempo far too punishing for the hapless away team, and the Blues had to withstand ferocious pressure in a first fifteen minutes of siege football.  That they emerged without conceding from that opening quarter-hour was mainly about some casual finishing, but Blues had defended grimly and must have been hoping for some respite if the storm would just blow itself out.  Then City keeper Darren Randolph came out to make a neat interception but tried to be that bit too clever and had the ball nicked off him by the ubiquitous Austin.  A first time pass to Ross McCormack who looked up and, seeing an empty goal 25 yards away, calmly propelled the ball into it.

Leeds had earned that breakthrough and they now set about consolidating it. Birmingham had to redouble their defensive efforts as well as trying to make the odd foray upfield, but by and large they were swimming against a flood tide as white shirts poured forward and Leeds players won most first and second balls all over the park.  The inevitable second came after the half-hour.  McCormack found time and space wide left, and advanced on the defence before putting a quality ball into the City box where Austin, at the end of a lung-bursting 70 yard run forward, was found in splendid isolation on the edge of the six yard box to plant a neat header past the helpless Randolph.  The first half’s coup de grâce was administered by the towering Matt Smith who had headed a diagonal pass into the path of McCormack.  The striker’s shot from a narrow angle was saved, but Smith was on hand to identify the space at the near post and neatly wrong-foot Randolph to finish efficiently.

A 3-0 half-time lead was beyond the wildest dreams of the long-suffering Leeds faithful, who must have spent the interval torn between celebrating, pinching themselves and praying for a continuation of what had been a masterful performance from United, even allowing for the frailties of the opposition.  City came out with the intention of playing for pride and perhaps at least winning the second half.  The introduction of recent Leeds nemesis Nikola Zigic might have caused a few collies to wobble and Birmingham did show a greater presence in the game in the second half, pushing United back and causing the odd flurry in defence, one goal-line clearance from Tom Lees being particularly memorable with Paddy Kenny beaten by a lob.  But Leeds’ nerve held, their confidence remained high and they defended adequately when they had to while managing to attack dangerously at every opportunity.

The hard work and persistence of Austin with the subtler promptings of young Alex Mowatt, allied to Smith’s aerial presence and McCormack’s intelligent space-seeking runs, always promised a fourth goal to set the seal on a highly encouraging afternoon. That fourth goal, when it came, was a thing of beautiful simplicity.  Smith was the scorer on 74 minutes, having had an emphatic finish ruled out for a narrow offside decision two minutes earlier.  Now though, Mowatt received possession on the left in a tight enough situation to deny him the chance to do anything but feed in a first-time cross. This he did, and the quality of the ball to the far post was such that Smith’s second goal of the afternoon was served up to him cooked to perfection on a silver plate with all the trimmings.  It was a sumptuous cross and Smith snapped up the chance gratefully, powering an unstoppable header into the net at the Kop End.

This was a performance of verve and style from United, the shape and make-up of the team proving just right for the task of dispatching a Birmingham side who are capable of much, but who were simply not allowed to perform on the day and were, in the end, sent packing, well beaten and thoroughly demoralised.  City manager Clark bemoaned the crass defending that contributed to at least two of the four goals, but in truth he will be relieved that his team escaped a far more savage beating. In the first half particularly it had been men against boys and it’s no exaggeration to say that United could have run out winners by seven goals or even more.  As match-days go, it was the kind of occasion Leeds fans have been denied for far too long.  This was a banquet of a performance after too long on starvation rations, and every man played his part to the full, though nobody could deny the marvellous Austin his man of the match accolade.

All credit to Brian McDermott and his players who have evidently made good use of the fortnight’s international break to get a few things thrashed out.  The desire and hunger of this display was wonderful to see and it sets a standard that McDermott will wish to see as a default level of performance from now on.  Whether the squad is strong enough for the long haul is severely open to doubt and there are still wrongs to be righted there.  But United’s big win has shown that, on their day and with their main men available, they are capable of handing out no end of a hiding.  More of the same next week against Huddersfield would do very nicely indeed.