Harris: Millwall treble hero Smith has played better

MILLWALL boss Neil Harris was careful not to over-praise Harry Smith after the striker scored his first professional hat-trick in just his sixth game at this level as Millwall defeated Braintree 5-2 in the second round of the FA Cup.

After Michael Cheek had given Braintree a 16th-minute lead, Smith finished Lee Gregory’s low cross to the net moments later to add a goal in his first game for Millwall in the FA Cup to those on his League One and EFL Trophy debuts.

Smith scored his second with a crisp half-volley from close range and Shane Ferguson made it 3-1 in the 25th minute.

Braintree halved the deficit through captain Jack Midson before Smith completed his hat-trick three minutes after half-time when he turned in the six-yard box to prod past goalkeeper Sam Beasant.

Harris brought the 21-year-old centre-forward off to a standing ovation with 12 minutes left, before Aiden O’Brien scored his ninth goal of the season with the last kick of the game in injury time.

A year ago, Smith was playing for Sittingbourne in the eighth tier of English football but he has now scored six goals in six games for Millwall.

Harris, though, played down Smith’s performance after the striker’s first treble in senior football.

The Lions boss said: “He had a couple of other chances to score, he’s effective and he’s worked extremely hard to get up to speed coming from part-time football.

“I’d probably say that’s the worst he’s played for us today. He played really, really well in the last few games but didn't score. I’m delighted for him today and I thought him and Lee Gregory were really good.

“Lee’s all-round game was exceptional: three assists and a really good performance, he lead the line well.

“As a striker you’re always going to be judged on scoring goals and today (Smith) has done his job. But I think there are two sides to it.

“I said to him before the game he’s not carrying the expectation of the club on his shoulders, that’s down to the senior players. He needs to just be himself and play the way he has that’s got him to where he is at the moment and play how he’s played recently.

“He went out and showed what he was all about, but me saying he has played better recently shows how well he has done.”

The draw for the third round of the competition will take place on Monday night, with the possibility of a lucrative tie against a Premier League or Championship club.

Harris admitted Millwall's defending was below par against Braintree but he is pleased with how his side is performing in attack.

“I thought it was an exciting cup tie,” Harris said. “We knew what to expect from Braintree and knew they were capable of scoring goals. First and foremost we can defend much better than we did today, but to score five goals and create numerous chances, I’m delighted for my players and the whole football club. We’re into the third round and can look forward to the draw on Monday night.

“I’d like to play at home. I’m really enjoying watching my team play at The Den. Yes we’ve conceded some goals but we’re scoring a lot of goals also: five today, four against Bristol Rovers and three at Bury.

“We’re a team capable of scoring goals at the moment and we’re still missing Steve Morison.”

John Kelly