Paul Dickov counts himself as one of Matt Smith’s biggest admirers, second only to his mother and father.
The Doncaster Rovers manager gave Smith his ticket into the Football League with a move to Oldham Athletic and Dickov revealed last night how he tried to sign the striker again while Leeds United were courting him in the summer.
Smith was awash with offers in June as he neared the end of his contract at Oldham, a deal given to him by Dickov in 2011 on the strength of the forward’s prowess in non-league.
Leeds tempted Smith with the offer of two years at Elland Road and he will lead their attack alongside Ross McCormack at the Keepmoat Stadium tomorrow, a venue where he previously did damage to Doncaster with his first United goal in August.
Dickov confirmed that Rovers had approached Smith during the close season, saying: “We had other priorities at the time but Matt knew that we would have possibly liked to bring him here He made up his mind and went elsewhere but I wished him all the best at the time and I wish him all the best now – after tomorrow.”
Smith’s career path is increasingly unusual in the English game. He turned professional with Oldham at the age of 21 having first studied for a degree at the University of Manchester, and he made his Championship debut for Leeds as a 24-year-old.
United have used him sparingly this season but his importance to manager Brian McDermott has increased markedly as a result of the serious knee injury suffered by Dexter Blackstock. Blackstock’s three-month loan from Nottingham Forest was cut short on Tuesday evening after Forest confirmed that the forward requires surgery on a cartilage problem which will end his season.
Smith’s patient wait for an extended opportunity is likely to pay off with a run alongside McCormack over Christmas, though McDermott might attempt to bring another forward to Elland Road when the transfer window opens in January.
A second-half header from Smith helped Leeds to fight back from 2-0 down against Watford to claim a 3-3 draw last weekend and his convincing display should see him retain his starting place at Doncaster.
Dickov said: “Matt’s somebody I watched a lot at non-league level and I obviously signed him at Oldham. Other than his mum and dad, there’s probably no-one more delighted to see how well he’s done than me. He’s a fantastic kid who wants to learn and to see him playing and scoring goals in the Championship is a credit to him.
“He’s not just a handful on the pitch but a fantastic kid off it. He deserves all the success he gets.
“Matt’s a throwback to the old type of centre-forward and teams struggle to play against him. When he’s at it, he’s a real handful.” Dickov admitted that his players would be instructed specifically on how to manage Smith this weekend having suffered at the forward’s hand during a 3-1 League Cup defeat to Leeds in August.
“You’ve got to keep him out of the box when the ball goes wide and you’ve got to make sure he doesn’t pick up second balls,” Dickov said. “You must react to his flick-ons. He showed all that in the cup game here. He’s also a lot better with his feet than he gets credit for so we’re going to have to be very careful. With him and McCormack up front and (Rodolph) Austin just behind them, they can cause us problems.”