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By Stuart Watson
Thursday, November 22, 2012
Tommy Smith could go straight back into the Blues’ defence for Saturday’s visit of fellow relegation-fighters Peterborough United to Portman Road.
The 22-year-old was brought in from the cold by new manager Mick McCarthy for the 2-1 home win over Burnley and he did superbly to keep Charlie Austin quiet. It was only the fourth time in 18 matches that European football’s leading marksmen had failed to find the net.
A return trip of more than 10,000 miles – the centre-back skippering New Zealand to a 1-1 friendly draw in China last Wednesday – saw Smith drop to the bench as McCarthy went with an experienced central defensive pairing of Danny Higginbotham and Luke Chambers for the trip to Leicester City. The Blues were thumped 6-0 as their goal difference plummeted to an embarrassing minus 25.
“I wasn’t pleased (that Smith had to go away on international duty) but I can’t do anything about that,” said McCarthy. “I don’t get wrapped up in all that – that’s the way it is and we will have to manage it.
“I thought he played pretty well (against Burnley). He got better and better in the game.
“When he started, it looked like he had been out for a while as Austin pulled it down and won a few headers – but he never got a kick after that.
“I thought Tommy played well and it’s nice to have the experience of Danny Higginbotham alongside him without any doubt.”
Loaned out to League One side Colchester United at the back end of the 2010/11 season, Smith endured a torrid start to the 2011/12 campaign. Having started the 5-2 defeat at home to Southampton, he was then on the field less than a minute as a substitute before getting sent-off in the 7-1 thrashing at Peterborough United.
Centre-backs Ibrahima Sonko and Danny Collins were brought in on short-term deals as Smith dropped to the bench, but after a brief upturn in fortunes a run of ten defeats from 13 matches followed.
Recalled, Smith went on to start the next 31 games in succession under manager Paul Jewell – nine of them at the start of this season – with the Blues’ record during that time reading W11 D9 L11. Higginbotham’s arrival on loan from Stoke saw Smith relegated to the bench for nine straight matches.