Cambridge United fans have had little to get excited about recently, with just one win in their last nine games in all competitions. They’re a side desperately in need of goals and creativity.
But a shining star in a side otherwise void of ideas has been Sam Smith, who has found his feet at the Abbey Stadium, scoring seven goals and assisting two so far this term. The Reading loanee has previously endured unsuccessful loan spells at Oxford United and Shrewsbury Town, but appears to be enjoying his football with the struggling Cambridge.
Smith’s strongest stint came towards the end of September; the striker hit five in five in the league for the U’s. It was a scoring streak befitting of United’s form, where they lost just once over four weeks. Despite the U’s poor form as of late, Smith is the league’s joint sixth top scorer and his pleasing start to the season hasn’t gone unnoticed. Following his equaliser against Exeter in the FA Cup in November, Cambridge head coach Colin Calderwood said: “He’s a hard runner and he does a lot of it at quite a high intensity.
“There are moments where, if he brings concentration and awareness, it can really add to his game to round off what he’s doing at the minute.”
Calderwood also described Smith’s goal scoring as “a super return”, admitting “he’s got a good personality and a selfish streak, which is a forward’s trait.”
What does this mean for Reading?
It certainly may seem the wrong time to be writing an article about another striker for Reading, following George Pușcaș’s five-minute hat-trick on Saturday. However, could Sam Smith be the man to partner him up front next season? Hear me out.
Smith has played 11 times already for Reading, scoring once in the league and once in the League Cup. The man has a point to prove, and at 21 years old, he won’t want to become the next Dominic Samuel - wasted potential. Admittedly, it cannot be ignored that Smith has previously failed to make an impact in League One; however, his goal scoring form has earned him some confidence playing in League Two. If he can perform in a side currently struggling in League Two, then who is to say he can’t carry his confidence and perform in a side with John Swift and Ovie Ejaria supplying the service?
The Royals will undoubtedly be looking to get off to a quick start next season in a bid for the play-offs. Come August 2020, Lucas Boye will have left Reading following his loan and Sam Baldock will be fast approaching 32; the Royals should be keen to give Smith his chance. The young striker is quick and tireless. He can slot into the Reading side alongside Pușcaș and play the role of the pressing forward, relentlessly chasing down defenders and applying pressure for the Romanian to capitalise on.
Smith has already shown he is capable of working in a system with two up top. When asked about playing with Marc Richards at Cambridge, Smith said: “He does a lot for me and the team by holding it up, fighting and bringing people into play, so you’ve got to give it to him”.
As a Reading fan who has watched Pușcaș over the past few months, if there is one thing that he is solid at, it is his consistent ability to bring the ball down, hold it up and shield it from his opponent. If nothing else, Smith can offer fresh legs from the bench as a backup choice to Joao and Pușcaș.
I am not suggesting that Sam Smith is already a Championship striker playing League Two football. However, I think the experience he will gain from his first string of professional football games will develop him immensely as a striker, and he will be able to offer Reading something going forward next season. He will certainly be hoping to give Mark Bowen and his coaching staff something to think about.