BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Matt Smith has scored in derby matches before – but never in the kind of dramatic fashion he managed on Saturday.
The striker had only been on the pitch for five minutes when he headed home Jed Wallace’s corner kick in the first minute of second half stoppage time to ensure Millwall’s unbeaten run against Charlton continued.
Smith netted for Leeds and QPR in local clashes with Huddersfield and Brentford. The 30-year-old admits that the delirium he sparked in the home sections of the Den were something else.
“When you score a goal – particular the manner of that one – then there is a sense of euphoria you can’t really compare to anything else,” said Smith. “There is no feeling like it. It is why you play up front, to have that feeling.
“To get the bragging rights was great for our fans.
“Someone tagged me online to say the reaction was like a mini earthquake in terms of the noise, which is quite something. You could feel the energy from the fans and the place was absolutely bouncing.”
Charlton manager Lee Bowyer was critical of his side’s defending for both Millwall goals – with Naby Sarr the culprit on each occasion.
Smith was unchallenged as he climbed over the static Frenchman to head past Dillon Phillips.
“It was a great delivery by Jed to the back post and the defender has not really got tight to me,” said the summer signing from QPR.
“His shoulders were closed to goal and his feet were planted – probably the dream scenario. It means I’ve got the run on someone and can tower over them. There is no way it was a foul. If a defender plants himself then ultimately he is going to get toppled over. It’s a contact sport, a man’s game. If the defender had come over the back of me and headed it away then no-one would expect a penalty.
“Some opposition managers could have used it as an excuse but it show that Lee Bowyer is a classy guy and said it how it was.
“Attacking the back post is one of my strengths. I’m delighted it went in. It is an important morale booster going into a couple of weeks off and hopefully gives us momentum.”
Smith has made just one start for Millwall since Harris resigned at the start of October. He was an unused sub in three of the five fixtures and came on in the closing stages at Reading and then last weekend.
He has scored more Championship goals as a sub – nine – than any player over the last three seasons.
“It’s very difficult coming on in that scenario and I’ve had that role all too many times for my liking,” said Smith. “In an ideal world you have at least half an hour to bed in and catch up with the rhythm of the game.
“It can be really tough. I only had four minutes of normal time to go in a match which has been pretty frantic. You’re hoping for a set-piece to settle things down. You might only get one, like Saturday, to make the difference.
“I really enjoyed the role I had under the previous manager but it’s a new era at the club now.You have to bide your time and see how things unfold.
“I’ve not featured much in the games since the old manager departed, which has been very frustrating from a personal perspective. Football is about opinions and I’ve just got to reinforce my case to play, as you do every week. I’m sure I’m going to get my opportunity – then it’s up to me to take it.”
Smith had spoken to our paper about the managerial stability at Millwall – and Harris’ repeated attempts to sign him – making a switch to SE16 even more inviting.
“It was a big shock when it came out on Twitter he was leaving,” said Smith. “I thought it was a hoax, a fake account. Even in the WhatsApp group no-one could believe it. I’ve got nothing but respect for the man. I really enjoyed playing under him.
“He was probably the biggest reason I joined. You’ve got to respect his decision. He has been around the game long enough to earn legend status at the club and felt it was time for a fresh start.
“I hope wherever his next job is that he is as successful as he was here. There are a few of us in the dressing room who are well-versed in the nature of football management and how volatile it can be. The club have made a fantastic appointment [in Gary Rowett] – someone who has got a superb track record in the division.
“The lads have reacted really positively to him and there is plenty to build on. The feeling around the place is one of optimism.
“The lads were electric in the first 10 minutes and caused them [Charlton] a whole host of problems. We deserved to get the lead.
“Like any games in the Championship there are periods where you have to ride the storm and we did that, even though we conceded. We managed to turn the tide in the latter part of the game and ultimately got the win, which was deserved.
“It just shows the mental steel of the lads to ride out those difficult periods and still come out on top.”
Tom Bradshaw’s displays and goals – which saw him nominated for Championship Player of the Month in October – have made him first pick up front.
“He’s scored six times in the league and been vitally important to us,” said Smith. “He is a fantastic player and a natural finisher. I’m delighted for him off the back of what sounded a nightmare last season [missing most of it following knee surgery].
“I’ve been involved as a combination with Bradders and felt it worked well and he has often played up front with Thommo [Ben Thompson] in behind.
“I’m just focused on getting myself back into the team – with him or not.
“It’s down to the likes of me, Bradders, Jon-Dadi [Bodvarsson], Aiden [O’Brien] and Jed to get the goals for us to get up the table.
“We’ve only lost one game in my eight starts and that was a bit of a freak goal in the QPR game that was probably a bit unjust.
“The team had a solidity when I have been in it and hasn’t lost away from home [when he has started].
“Looking at the positives helps to galvanise you on the pitch and help bring confidence. I want to contribute and impact. I want to be as beneficial to the side as I can be.”
PICTURES BY BRIAN TONKS