Oldham’s FA Cup run came to an end with a 3-1 defeat to Everton in Tuesday’s fifth-round replay but striker Matt Smith left Goodison Park as a big man who has made a big impression.
The 6ft 6in 23-year-old – son of former Hearts forward Ian Smith – came off the bench to head home Jonathan Grounds’ 64th-minute corner for a fourth goal in this season’s competition, all against top flight opposition.
“We don’t really see anyone like that apart from Peter Crouch,” said Everton assistant manager Steve Round after the game.
“Whenever the ball’s in the air, if a goalie’s knocking the ball in the air from 75 or 80 yards away, if you’re 6ft 6in then you’ve got a chance of heading it. You’ve got to compete with that like we did and make sure you pick up the second balls and flicks. He scored a good goal from a corner again.”
Smith was an unused substitute as Oldham overcame Kidderminster and Doncaster in the early rounds before being thrust into the starting line-up against Nottingham Forest at the City Ground. His first contribution to the third round tie was an inauspicious one – scoring an own goal to put the hosts ahead – but he produced an all-action display as Oldham ran riot after half-time, winning the free-kick that saw Danny Collins sent off for a professional foul before Jose Baxter scored the vital goal in a 3-2 triumph.
In from the start against Liverpool at Boundary Park, Smith made his presence felt with a third-minute opener and proceeded to give centre-backs Martin Skrtel and Sebastian Coates a truly torrid afternoon, scoring again before half-time.
But his starring role in another 3-2 success came at a price – an injured shoulder meant Smith’s next action came as a second-half replacement against with Everton at Boundary Park. A dramatic stoppage-time equaliser duly followed.
Latics caretaker boss Tony Philliskirk assigned a substitutes’ role once more last night and accepted he might come in for criticism after the towering targetman later made another telling impact.
But Philliskirk, who will return to his role as head of Oldham’s youth development operation when Paul Dickov’s successor is found, pointed to Smith’s rapid rise from Manchester University footballer and prolific non-league goalscorer with Solihull Moors and how much further he can progress.
“Matt has been a really good impact player coming off the bench,” he said. “That’s not to say he won’t be starting games. That’s the next stage for his development, to become a regular. He’s still young, he’s only had 18 months in the [professional] game.
“He’s learning and the next stage of his development is becoming a starter and becoming a regular week in, week out so we haven’t got to forget that.”