Leading scorer Ross McCormack urges the club and fans not to underestimate Matt Smith’s contribution. Leon Wobschall reports.
PLENTY of kudos may have deservedly been afforded to Ross McCormack in a stellar 2013-14 campaign, but the man himself is eager to share out the plaudits – more especially with the big lad next to him ‘up top’.
The Scot’s seasonal haul of 29 goals was a thoroughly laudable achievement in itself, given a moribund campaign for Leeds United as a team and while it represented comfortably the shining light on the pitch, the contribution of Matt Smith should not go under the radar, according to McCormack.
Their combined haul might not have quite been in the Danny Ings and Sam Vokes class over at promoted Burnley, but 42 goals is something that is not to be sniffed at – just a shame the supporting cast couldn’t chip in with a few more on the scoring stakes.
United fans who attended the club’s end-of-season awards night on Saturday may have been treated to an impromptu set from amateur guitarist and club owner Massimo Cellino and were also rightly on their feet to acclaim the equivalent of their on-pitch lead guitarist in McCormack, but the base player was also worthy of a mention.
Smith, who has ended the season strongly, added to his goalscoring repertoire with the deftest of finishes after being played in adroitly by McCormack in the weekend draw with Derby County, for his 13th goal of the season.
Let it not be forgotten that it represented the former Oldham Athletic targetman’s first campaign in the Championship; just over three years ago he was ploughing a furrow at Solihull Moors.
The little-and-large combo has reaped its rewards this term and while McCormack is very much the main man, he retains a sense of collective pride in the pair’s combined haul of 42 goals – not bad for a side who ended the season in lower mid-table.
On their collective goals tally, McCormack said: “It’s got to be up there with the best in the division in terms of goals and percentage of goals to the club’s goals that me and Matty have scored.
“That’s what happens when you’ve got a partnership up front.
“Matty’s not been long in the game. He’s only young and he can only get better.
“We talk every day about the partnership and about how we can get better.
“I think already we have an understanding and, in time, it can only get better.
“Matty’s said that I’ve set up a few of his goals, but he’s set up a few of mine and that’s what partnerships do.
“Matty’s surprised a lot of people in the division but we’ve played to his strengths, he’s been challenging in the air and winning a few balls.
“I think he’s been excellent this season and he’ll only get better.
Saturday may have been a bit of a dead rubber for United, but there remained a ‘live’ issue in the shape of McCormack grasping the final opportunity to register his 30th goal of the campaign and join an elite band of Leeds players to have achieved that seasonal feat.
Alas it was not to be for the frontman in season when everything he has touched has invariably turned to gold.
McCormack admitted to a tinge of disappointment in not achieving that milestone, with a late opportunity that nearly all of Elland Road were desperate for him to convert unfortunately not being taken – somewhat unlike him in the most predatory of seasons.
It arrived late on against Steve McClaren’s Rams in front of a bumper final-day crowd of almost 30,000, with Danny Pugh sending over an inviting cross, only for McCormack to see his header in front of goal plucked from the air by visiting custodian Lee Grant.
The Glaswegian added: “I’m disappointed because I definitely had the chance at the end.
“When it got to about 85 minutes, I was thinking ‘just one chance, please’.
“The keeper saved my free kick but the header at the end, I should score. Simple as that.
“It was of those where you had loads of time to think about it.
“I tried to put it back across the keeper and it slid off my head and into his hands. Agonising.”
McCormack’s emphatic haul had led to many suggestions, not least from legendary Super Leeds marksman Mick Jones, that without his input, the relegated trio from the Championship may have contained a different White Rose incumbent. Namely Leeds United.
It’s something that has been mentioned by a fair few others of a Whites persuasion, that is for certain.
McCormack is commendably self-deprecating about his own key contribution and bridles at suggestions that Leeds would have been relegated to League One if it wasn’t for his major efforts in front of goal.
As captain of the club and a proud one at that, he believes he remains just one cog in the team and is just pleased to have played his part and led from the front in a season which in anyone’s language ultimately turned out to be a challenging one for a whole host of reasons.
For McCormack, there is no ‘I’ in team, even accounting for his tremendous efforts which rightly culminated in him being named in the PFA Championship Team of the Year, in a line-up largely dominated by players from higher ranking clubs, most notably Leicester City and Burnley.
McCormack said: “Listen, I’m not silly enough to think that someone else wouldn’t be scoring the goals if I wasn’t.
“You can’t say if I didn’t score we’d be relegated or whatever. That’s what happens at Leeds.
“Beckford left and Becchio scored goals. Becchio left and I score goals.
“If I wasn’t here, someone else would be scoring goals, there’s no doubt about it.
“I’m happy to play my part this season, I’ve really enjoyed it.”