Pompey fans can make or break Smith

Michael Smith shows his frustration against Leyton Orient. Picture: Joe Pepler
Michael Smith shows his frustration against Leyton Orient. Picture: Joe Pepler

Michael Smith may not be the man to score 20 goals this season for Pompey.

He may never progress to become the darling of the Fratton faithful anytime soon, either.

Heaven forbid, the striker may not even be the man to fire Paul Cook’s side out of League Two this season.

But none of that will come remotely close to justifying the flak thrown at the player in recent days.

Quite how his treatment aligns with the standing of Pompey fans as pound-for-pound the best in the business is anyone’s guess.

It seems that reputation is being lost in Fratton’s sands of time.

Despite Pompey supporters’ prominence in the game, those who’ve been around long enough will tell you it’s not new to see an individual subjected to flak.

Matt Robinson, Scott Hiley, Kevin Harper, Carl Tiler and even Kyle Bennett are a few who could testify to that over the past 20 years.

But what’s heading Smith’s way at the moment is over the top and clearly weighing heavily on the striker.

And, sadly, at the weekend that veered into realms of abuse which could conceivably end up in the hands of the law.

Again, it’s the behaviour of a single idiotic individual behind an extremely offensive tweet aimed at the 25-year-old.

But it’s that kind of conduct which demeans the good name of Pompey’s supporters who’ve already taken a battering recently.

‘Disgusting,’ was how Blues’ assistant manager Leam Richardson termed it at the Pompey Supporters’ Trust meeting on Monday night.

Platforms like Twitter have long been the preserve of the faceless keyboard warrior, however, and the Fratton faithful can justifiably counter such behaviour is not in their name.

But no-one could argue the stick aimed at Smith against Leyton Orient was from a few rogue followers.

The angst shown around the ground as the Geordie lad loitered on the ball in one first-half incident was jarring.

It was an instinctive, perhaps even perfectly natural, airing of frustration to the glimpse of an opening disappearing.

As one shrewd observer noted, however, it’s the sort of conditions which create a self-fulfilling environment for the striker.

Striker misses shot. Crowd shows frustration. Striker loses confidence. Crowd’s frustration grows. Striker stops shooting.

It’s the ever-decreasing circles which eventually sees a player swallowed up in a vortex of sapped morale.

Reports of booing as the player took to the pitch in the second half are indefensible, however. It’s evident Smith is now bereft of the confidence he gained off the back of three goals in three going into December. All the signifiers there to show it.

The kind of instinct a striker operates on isn’t in place, balls into the box aren’t attacked, extra touches are needed and even his height advantages aren’t being utilised.

With opinions now firmly formed, fans becomes hyper-sensitive to the traits being exhibited.

It’s a heavy burden for a player to carry.

Pompey fans can, of course, play their part in nurturing the striker back to health.

Just as one moronic tweet was drowned out by a sea of positivity on Smith’s timeline, so the encouragement of the masses can silence the knockers on a matchday.

It’s worth remembering this is a man who scored 18 goals the season before last in League One when firing on all cylinders.

Legendary former Pompey and England striker Ray Crawford, one of Smith’s most vocal critics, recalls how he was subjected to flak on his arrival at Ipswich.

He went on to become their greatest goalscorer.

‘Sticking the ball in the back of the net was the answer,’ Crawford remembered.

Nursing their striker towards that goal is the conduct of fans with a claim to being the best around.