From the moment he met Kenny Jackett to discuss a move to Leyton Orient in the summer, Harry Smith knew this was the man to stop his career stagnating.
The 26-year-old left Macclesfield to join Northampton in July 2019, with a short loan at Motherwell between just 38 league appearances in two seasons for the Cobblers.
So when Jackett’s call came, the timing couldn’t have been better.
Speaking in an exclusive interview with Sky SportsSmith said, “I spoke to manager Jon Brady at the end of the season and said I felt like my time had been a bit hit and miss at Northampton; it had been a stop-start with injuries and I couldn’t.” get a run on the team We had an honest conversation and I said I wanted to try to move on and get closer to home.
“Once I discovered the Orient and especially when Kenny signed to be the new manager, it was perfect for me. It was a great draw. I have played against some of his teams in the past, including Portsmouth, and it always seemed like do pretty well, which he mentioned when I spoke to him.
“I went down and met him and I knew in five minutes that he would be the right coach for me.”
And after believing his instincts and signing a two-year deal at Breyer Group Stadium, if there were any lingering doubts, they would truly be extinguished by an off-the-cuff remark of a familiar face.
“The first or second day I was there, Neil Harris – my former manager at Millwall – came over to see the training. He saw me, we had a chat and he told me that Kenny would be great for me. exactly what I needed. It was music to my ears to talk to an old manager and get that reassurance from him. “
With 11 league goals already among the best in his career, Smith’s return speaks volumes about his contentment on and off the pitch – he even won November’s Goal of the Month award for a stunning volley against Sutton. “It’s not usually my territory!” laughs the attacker of 6’5 “.
Harry Smith’s career championship stats
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It also appears to have justified his decision to return south for the first time since leaving Millwall in 2018.
“I had been away for a long time, had ups and downs along the way and never really settled down,” he continues. “In the back of my mind, I thought that if I could get back south of the river, I could really settle down and kick the ball.
“Being on the number of goals I am now is testament to myself and the hard work I’ve done since joining the club. I have to commend the guys I play with and the management team as well.
“I haven’t really worked specifically on my game. I feel that in the last few years I have probably listened too much to what I have been told to do and have not played my game. Here, the gaffer wholeheartedly places his trust in me and trusts me to play my game.
“I’ve played pretty much every minute of every game since the second game of the season and only got out once. It’s probably where I’ve felt happiest, where I’ve enjoyed my football the most and where I’ve been all-around happy with the game. my career “.
His strike partnership with Aaron Drinan has, undeniably, played a substantial role in that happiness. The pair have scored 21 of Orient’s 37 league goals so far this season, placing them fourth and fifth in the individual scorer chart and the team is second only to leaders Forest Green (43) in the division.
Drinan, 23, was sent out in four loan periods during his three years at Ipswich, before finally receiving a first-team chance last season and then heading east London less than two weeks ahead of Smith.
Clearly there was an instant connection. Does the couple feel they have something to prove?
“Definitely,” Smith quickly adds, without hesitation.
“I’ll speak on my behalf, but by talking to Drizzy and getting to know him, he feels it too. I think in Ipswich, he probably didn’t have the playing time he wanted and this is similar to me in Northampton. We went down a level, back to the League Two, to do it.
“I remember talking to Steve Morison a few years ago and he and Lee Gregory had it at Millwall – they just clicked. It went on for a few years and they had a good partnership. I feel like, with Drizzy, we really really work. well with each other and we have a great relationship off the pitch, which is important. On the pitch we know exactly what our strengths are and what each of us will do. I think that helps me and when one scores, l ‘other scores, so there is also a little competition there.
“Every player has a point to prove one way or another, but it’s more so for me with the previous things I’ve been through. I don’t feel like I’ve still done my best, but with the season I have” I had so far, I hope this is just the beginning of things to come. “
On December 29 – Covid-dependent, of course – the Orient will reach the halfway point of the Sky Bet League Two season.
They currently sit two points out of the playoff spots, just five out of the top three, and if they could improve their away form – they’ve only won one of 11 away – Smith knows the standings would look a lot healthier.
“It’s frustrating. We’re so dominant at home and probably in the top two or three at home based on league form. We recently lost there to Crawley but when we win there, we win pretty comfortably – we’ve won by three or four goals. a few times this season.
“It seems like we can’t put our finger on what’s going wrong. We’re not looking into it too much, but we’re confident that once we get an away win, we can do some running.”
But he also knows that the championship position at this point is – in no way – being everything and finishing everything.
“Of course you want to be in the top three, there’s no question, but if you can hold on into the new year and really move forward to the second half, that’s where the teams really find their form. Watch Bolton senior year – they dropped to the last six or seven in January, February, then peaked, finished third, got auto promotion and are now doing well in League One.
“We know that the performances are there and this is the frustrating thing at the moment; many times this season we have been the best team but we are on the wrong side of the results and we are drawing a few games too many, but there is still a long way to go. We are not deleting anything. “
Just seven and a half years ago, the Orient were on the verge of promotion to the Championship, only to lose to Rotherham in the 2013/14 League One play-off final. Since then, the club has quit the EFL, has recovered and is now trying to get back to where it once was.
The promotion talk may not be explicit at the moment, but the brief is clear.
“Everyone is enormously enthusiastic [to get out of League Two]. Which comes from above. The owners are great and I have never been to a club where the owners are so hands on. I am in once or twice a month and have been to clubs where I have never seen the owner before. Here, if they’re not in the country and not coming to the training ground, we have Zoom meetings every Friday just to catch up. Also that of the management: they are fantastic.
“The club is not a League Two club. It is a good base and should at least be in League One. That is the goal this season.”