BY his own admission Harry Smith wasn’t at his best in Millwall’s 1-0 win over Peterborough United on Tuesday, but he says it’s all part of a steep learning process and he revealed he's been getting one-to-one lessons on the striker's art.
Smith, 21, burst onto the Lions scene following his move from non-league Folkestone Invicta last summer, scoring six goals in his first seven games in November and December, including on his debuts in the EFL Trophy, league and FA Cup.
He had got his chance in the starting XI after injury kept Steve Morison out for eight games and was always going to be back on the bench when the vice-captain returned.
Smith had to wait more than two months for his next start, after Morison got injured again.
Millwall drew a blank at Oldham last weekend and Smith was, commendably, brutally honest about his performance against the Posh this week.
“I’m still finding my feet,” he said. “(Tuesday) was another learning curve for me, a physical game. Probably not my best game if I’m honest, quite frustrated a lot of the time, and aerially not so good. It’s not about me, it’s about the team. As long as we pick up the three points that’s all that matters.”
“It’s difficult for me. I’m not used to it. You get a few people shouting from the stands, I’ve not been in professional football for long. So I’m still learning. But the more experience I get the better I’ll be able to push that to one side and crack on with my own game.”
A dead leg injury he picked up in an U21 game in January took longer than expected to clear up. He was training just once or twice a week at part-time Folkestone and asked if the adjusting to full-time training could have contributed to his extended spell out, he said: “You could say that.
He added: “Probably just my body getting used to it. The main injury was a dead leg, which wouldn’t go away for three or four weeks.
“As I rolled the defender he came crushing in on me and his knee has come into the back of my calf. I just couldn’t walk for a long time after that. We went to see a specialist, to get my leg drained. He said it wasn’t worth it. I was out for three weeks then.
“They were pushing me to be involved for the Walsall game but the specialist said there was no point sticking a needle in and draining the blood. Let it heal itself.”
“I had to wear a moon boot. I looked a bit of an idiot, for a dead leg. It was that bad I couldn’t put any pressure on my right leg. They normally only last three or four days.”
As well as that injury setback Smith has also had to adjust to the higher demands that shape all aspects of life around being a professional footballer.
“It’s massive,” he said. “It’s not just training, it is being a good pro off the pitch as well. Being on time, 45 minutes before the first team, just little things I’ve got to adapt to. Eating the right stuff. It’s been a big jump but I feel I’m getting there.”
So are Millwall, after Tuesday’s win lifted them back into the top six in League One.
Those three points came through Lee Gregory’s penalty, after the striker had missed two in the last five minutes of the 0-0 draw at Boundary Park in the previous game.
“He had the disappointment of Saturday but we didn’t really speak about it after that,” Smith said. “It just gets pushed aside. Greggers is our penalty-taker when Moro isn’t playing. He was always going to take the next one. It shows the type of player he is. Everyone was cheering his name. He must have had a few nerves but everyone got behind him. We knew he’d score.”
Smith could continue his partnership with Gregory at home against MK Dons this Saturday if Morison is still out.
And he revealed his boss Neil Harris and Tony Craig have been working on helping him improve his overall game.
Smith explained: “Every day me and the gaffer are on the training pitch one-to-one doing stuff: timing, crosses into the box with TC, and he’ll teach me certain things. Every day he’s helping me, without doubt. He’s been brilliant.”
“With me he is always making sure I’m doing this right. After (Tuesday) he said to me it’s a learning curve. When I signed he said I’ve got to find that aggression. It’s about adding little bits to my game.”
Millwall are currently in a 16-game unbeaten run, including knocking three Premier League sides out of the FA Cup.
That has brought wider interest in the squad and in Harris, now regarded as one of the brightest English coaches in the country.
Harris is determined Millwall will be playing Championship football next season, and Smith believes his manager can excel at a higher level.
He said: “Yeah, definitely. His man management is great. Everyone respects him and knows the boundaries. He’s the best I’ve played under and has big potential.”
That feeling would only be enhanced if Millwall manage to somehow defy odds hovering at around 10/1 and progress to the last four of the FA Cup.
The league, though, is the priority and Millwall could move to within three points of automatic promotion if they beat MK Dons this weekend before the trip to Tottenham Hotpsur on Sunday week.
“I haven’t really thought that far ahead,” Smith said. “Whoever the manager picks we’ll be confident we can go there and cause an upset. If he picks me, brilliant. It will be the last-ever FA Cup game there, with 4,000-odd Millwall fans. It would be a dream to play there.”
“Other than us, everyone is talking about Tottenham. We just focus on the next game. The only time we talked about them was when we beat Leicester and the gaffer said, ‘brilliant draw, but we don’t talk about that until it is the next game’.
“We sorted tickets on Monday but then it was on to Peterborough.
“Everyone is looking for that top two. We’re not looking to cement a play-off place. We looked at it (Tuesday) and thought, ‘we’re six points behind now and still got to play Scunthorpe down here, go away to Sheffield United. We’ve got to play Rochdale’.
“That’s 16 games unbeaten and we’re definitely aiming for the top two. The way we’re going we won’t be far off.”
Image: Millwall FC