Date: 19th November 2010 at 9:30am
Written by:

In a week when Andy Carroll has grabbed the headlines, TOTT takes time out to pay tribute to another former England number 9 still in Tyneside`s ranks, as he passes another milestone.

Today is Friday 19th November, a date that rings bells in every Newcastle supporters` head, but they don`t quite remember why. Yes, the celebration is the last league goal scored by Alan Smith, 5 years ago today.

Sadly, that goal was not scored for Newcastle, but for Smith`s previous club Manchester United. That was the club that Smith said he would never play for whilst at Roses` rivals Leeds, but whose sale staved off administration for a brief period.

Smith had started to play in his newly acquired midfield role, on the day playing in the place of Roy Keane and the previous bustling midfielder Nicky Butt who had already moved to Newcastle United, purely in the hope of becoming Smith`s future captain. In writing this piece, Nicky Butt was sadly not available for comment to pay his own tribute to Smithy.

It will be remembered however that Smith`s goal was the opener in a match at the Valley which was eventually won 3-1 by Manchester United, and but for that goal, the game might have taken a totally different turn, with Charlton scoring the next. Smith`s prowess was to force Roy Keane out of the club the following January.

That goal was perfect in it`s execution from close range, having been set up by the then youngster Darren Fletcher. Had he been available to pay his tribute, Fletcher would no doubt have drooled over his recollections of Smith`s effort.

Although it was the only goal of the season for Smith, it should be highlighted that this came against a London side, as had a high proportion of his goals. His previous goal had also been away against Charlton a season earlier. Another London goal, this time against Crystal Palace was his last home league goal almost 6 years ago.

If only Chris Hughton had realised that Smith`s London run also included a goal against Fulham in the week before his last home effort, then last weekend could have been so different.

TOTT has made great efforts to speak to 2 of the observers from that momentous occasion, Mike Riley referee who was sadly unavailable for comment, and in trying to obtain an interview from his then manager Sir Alex Ferguson was met with the comment “are you from the BBC?” before slamming his car door shut.

Smith`s move to Newcastle was much heralded along with the arrival of, in his opinion England`s best manager, Sam Allardyce. Smith becamse the first player in Newcastle history to have his replica shirt name and number on the owner`s back.

Since that goal, Smith has scored twice more against Italian opposition. Once was in a 7-1 demolition by the Red Devils of Roma in the Champions League, the other, more importantly was on his Newcastle debut during a friendly against Sampadoria, again at close range, in the Gallowgate end.

Smudger`s contribution to Newcastle can not be underestimated. Although he has taken longer than former England team mate Michael Owen to score as many, indeed any, goals for Newcastle as against, his role in the promotion winning season was crucial. Holding in midfield, he undoubtedly set the platform for success.

That season was his best so far in black and white. He could be argued to have contributed to 6 wins against Leeds when he was at Elland Road, but in the 3 games that he scored for Leeds, they won 2 and drew 1. He also featured in 3 wins for Manchester United against the Toon.

Away from the Championship winning season, Smith`s record has not been quite as dramatic, despite outlasting a number of managers; Allardyce, Pearson, Keegan, Kinnear and former England colleague, Shearer.

After a winning debut against Bolton, in the Premier League Smith has found wins hard to come by. There have only been 3 other Premier League matches when Smudger has played the full 90 minutes that Newcastle have won, those being in September 2007 against Wigan, December the same year against Birmingham and one week later, again at Fulham when a 90th minute Barton penalty sealed the points.

His best run of 3 Premier League wins came as a late sub against Spurs, Blackburn and yes, Fulham, in which he played a total of 28 minutes out of the 270. He did however start the match this season against Villa, seeing the first 4 out of 6 goals going in whilst on the park.

Since the Charlton goal 5 years ago, Smith`s stats have indeed been impressive. He has featured, either starting or as a sub, in 110 domestic games yielding 298 goals, none of them his.

His Premier League record for Newcastle has probably reflected the managerial upheaval. In 42 appearances, he has been on the winning side 7 times, completing the 90 minutes just twice. Despite this his cup record for the Toon boasts an away win against Chelsea, his 2nd in 9 attempts, the first win being against the might of Barnsley.

His contribution to English football would not be complete without mentioning his disciplinary record. On 7 Premier League bookings he is joint 4th, just one behind the disciplinary greats of Duncan Ferguson, Patrick Viera and Richard Dunne. Of those he is the only one to be able to add a Championship red against Cardiff as well as 1 in Europe, 1 in the FA Cup and 1 for England. His League Cup record is red free.

Looking ahead, Smith is set to make another comeback this weekend. The omens are good for him to break his duck. Having a winning debut against Bolton, he also scored against them at Leeds during a 2-4 home defeat in 2002. This will also be the 10th game under Howard Webb since the last win when he officiated so fortunes are due to change.

Smith will go into the annals of Newcastle history as a legend, even though he was present for 3 of the 4 league defeats during the promotion season. His honest endeavour will remembered longer than the results, with the overwhelming legacy being the haircut adopted by the mascot before the 5-1 win against Sunderland.

Now that the 5 year landmark has been passed, we look forward to him being free of the burden, and improving on his record of joint 81st in all time Premier League scorers. When 1 comes, the floodgates will open. If manager Chris Hughton had been available for comment, who knows what he might have said?

Happy anniversary Smudger. We love you really.

rticle by RexN