Tag Archives: strikers

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.

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No More Dexter Blackstock for Leeds; Who Next? – by Rob Atkinson

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Dexter makes his mark for Leeds

Dexter Blackstock has apparently been ruled out for the season by a knee injury, which is particularly hard luck on the lad himself, but also obviously for Leeds United.  Dex wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea in the white shirt, but as was said in commentary for the Watford game, he did bring something to the team that we hadn’t got before, in terms of work off the ball and his movement, opening up options for others to profit rather than necessarily being a taker of chances himself – although I’m sure that would have come.

But hey-ho, he’s gone back to Forest and there’s no use crying over spilt milk.  The one thing we know for sure about poor old Blackstock is that he’s not an option for the rest of this season – so he therefore disappears from our radar altogether, and we must look forward – and it appears that we may do so whilst jingling a few shekels in our pocket.

The most likely addition to our forward line in January remains, in my opinion, one Señor Becchio.  He’s been here and done it before, and at this level too.  He’d be absolutely champing at the bit and determined to make an impact – I’m sure he’d be effective for Leeds United as the campaign enters its decisive phase.  I emphasise my own opinion here as it seems certain Leeds fans would see Bates ensconced in his old office at Elland Road before they’d accept Luciano back.  This absolutely baffles me – Becchio is a known quantity, he’s familiar with the club and the demands of playing in front of a demanding and somewhat truculent crowd – why on earth wouldn’t we give him a shot, if it really was an option?

Still, what do Brian McDermott OR I know?  I’m just glad that we appear to be of the same opinion, even if we’re wrong.  But what do others think?  I wrote an article a while back saying that the acquisition of Becchio and Gradel in January would guarantee us promotion; I still feel that’s most probably right, too.  But it’s not as if I’d be averse to Ince from Blackpool plus Doyle from Wolves, either – as long as the budget is there, post TOMA III.  What options would anyone else advance or deeply desire?  I’m seeking your views, ladies and gentlemen – please chip in with them below.

The answer to the Leeds United goal scoring problem is a proper striker.

Another good read from Michael Green, late of ClarkeOneNil, now back in circulation on Lee Chapman’s Sofa, as it were. This article presents the case for Luciano Becchio of blessed memory as a “proper striker” as opposed to the frontmen we have now. The dissertation on what constitutes a “proper striker” is compelling stuff; Becchio’s scoring rate towards the end of his time at Elland Road certainly begs for his inclusion in that category, yet those goal-scoring instincts don’t appear to have served him well at Naaaaaaarritch Ciddy. And yet I remember that instinctive movement that enabled him to score at the near post against Chelsea last season in the League Cup. In that instant, he looked the real deal, right enough. Perhaps he was just more at home in LS11, and didn’t know it? Now, languishing some way short of the first XI at Carrow Road, complications of wages and transfer fees have cropped up as impediments to his path back to Leeds. It’s all quite frustrating.

I’d have also argued for the “proper striker” candidacy of Craig Mackail-Smith (Brighton) – not sure whether he fits the Luciano mould, but he’s such a pest to play against for opposing defenders, and he does seem to have that knack of nipping in for a decisive last touch into the net, certainly when the opposition is Leeds, against whom he always scores. Sadly CMS is sidelined with a serious achilles injury, and at 29 you have to ask whether he’ll be quite the same player again.

Whatever the case, it promises to be an interesting next couple of weeks, with Mr Nooruddin having been smoked out to a certain extent into conceding a ralaxation of the previous “one out, one in” policy that so hamstrung Brian in the recent window proper. Meanwhile as MG suggests, the perfect candidate might just be a frustrated and under-employed Argentinian, just waiting for the chance to come back home to Elland Road. We shall see.

Mighty Leeds Crush 10-man Cherries Despite Penalty Miss – by Rob Atkinson

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Sometimes a hard-earned result after a run of defeats can do the trick, reinvigorate a team, instil confidence and set them on a much more positive run.  Sometimes.  There must be some doubt as to whether this struggle to beat a Bournemouth team reduced to 10 men after only just over half an hour will do that trick, inspiration-wise.  The initial lift provided by Cherries goalkeeper Ryan Allsop’s dismissal for a professional foul was immediately negated when Ross McCormack missed the resultant penalty, sub keeper Darryl Flahavan saving the Scot’s weakish effort.  That “here we go again” gloom descended on Elland Road and the two teams headed in at half time level.

The second half was better in a way it couldn’t really help but be after the disappointment of the first.  The usual procession of half-chances and fluffed shots had in the end come to a familiar outcome: no goals for Leeds.  The deadlock though was broken when Bournemouth’s depleted side finally cracked as McCormack got onto the end of a Stephen Warnock low pass to sweep the ball past Flahavan from close range.  Leeds had been somewhat more effective since the Cherries had been reduced to ten, and the feeling was that they could now go on to capitalise.

Typically though, it would not be that simple.  Another set-piece to defend on 73 minutes, another awful mix-up at the back for Leeds as Eunan O’Kane headed on for Lewis Grabban to equalise. 1-1 and Leeds were threatening to throw away at least two points. That impression was reinforced when Flahavan then produced a one-handed save to deny Rudy Austin, but after 80 minutes of embarrassingly tense struggle, former Bournemouth defender Jason Pearce managed to knock the ball down for sub Dom Poleon to lash in the winner.

It was the kind of game that could so easily have proved a disaster for Leeds, even at this early stage of the season.  The psychological import of failing to win against ten men, on the end of such a dismal run too, was too horrible to contemplate. As it was, United prevailed and they can draw a line under this performance and move on.  Things will need to be a lot better against Derby at the weekend if the Whites are to build on this less than convincing win.