Player watch: Ipswich need Smith at his consistent best in the coming weeks
PUBLISHED: 01:09 03 January 2018 | UPDATED: 01:09 03 January 2018
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If Adam Webster’s Achilles injury ‘rumbles on’ as Ipswich Town boss Mick McCarthy fears it might, it figures Tommy Smith is going to be playing a central role for the Blues in the coming weeks.
Webster limped out of Saturday’s defeat by Derby and, with his manager believing the defender will return for the January 13 clash with Leeds at the earliest, it meant Smith was the man thrust into action at Craven Cottage.
The New Zealand international has not been without injury problems of his own this season, firstly suffering with a hamstring problem before suffering a calf injury while on World Cup duty, which had limited his season to just 180 minutes heading into the Fulham clash. Indeed, he only made six starts in the entirety of 2017.
His previous Ipswich appearance came at Cardiff, where his lack of match fitness showed at times, but he stood firm with the rest of the Ipswich backline during an early onslaught which saw the hosts pepper the Blues’ box.
His night started well, as he thumped a headed clearance out into midfield to deal well with a Fulham header into the box, but things became that bit more difficult as the night went on.
Smith and his fellow defenders were put to the test by a Fulham side who like to move the ball quickly and work off muscular striker Aboubakar Kamara.
Luke Chambers was the man to deal with Kamara one-on-one, with Smith left to pick up the pieces of the men working off the central striker.
Despite being caught flat-footed on occasions, Smith recovered well time and again, notably poking the ball off the feet of Floyd Ayite when the Fulham man was looking to latch onto a loose ball.
Then, the game changed. The sending off of Jordan Spence left the Blues fighting for their lives to keep the hosts at bay. That fight lasted 15 minutes before the floodgates opened, with Fulham’s four goals in just seven minutes killing the game.
It would be unfair to lay blame for any of the goals solely at Smith’s door, but the defender will have left Craven Cottage knowing he perhaps could have done more to keep the ball out of the net.
He only managed half a block in the build-up to Fulham’s second, scored by Kamara, while Tom Cairney danced past both Smith and Luke Chambers to square to Ryan Sessegnon for Fulham’s third.
Smith, now 27-years-old, has been the model of consistency during much of his career at Portman Road, particularly during a 2014/15 campaign which saw the Blues reach the play-offs.
He will need to be again if Webster is out for any prolonged spell, while Spence’s three-match ban puts further pressure on a Town squad which couldn’t afford any further absences.