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On-loan Reading striker Sam Smith thriving at Cambridge United after lessons learned from Oxford spell

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Sam Smith is thriving at Cambridge United. Picture: Rich Marsham
Sam Smith is thriving at Cambridge United. Picture: Rich Marsham

Sam Smith is aiming to fire Cambridge United to a big second half to the Sky Bet League Two season.

The 21-year-old striker, who is on loan from Reading, has already scored eight goals and has set the target of doubling the tally by the end of the campaign.

He will do so by starting the year as the U’s No 1 striker, after the end of Marc Richards’ short-term contract.

“We’ve got a very young squad and we’re all just trying to stick together and pull our weight because we’ve got me, Harvey (Knibbs) and Andrew Dallas, and we’re all still learning,” said Smith.

“I think losing Marc was big for us, but obviously things aren’t meant to be.

“Now we have to take that responsibility and prove what we can actually do, and we will learn from the experience, which I’m looking forward to.

“You have to grow up and learn quick, and I was grateful to Marc for helping me, and I will now pass down what he has taught me.”

Smith has started the U’s last 24 league games, and also the two FA Cup matches against Exeter City, and is thriving with the opportunity being given to him by head coach Colin Calderwood.

“At this stage of my career, game time is everything,” he said. “You can only score goals if you’re playing, so I’m grateful for the manager in trusting in me.

“I just feel like we’ve got a big second half of the season coming up, and if I can replicate what I did at the start then we should be there or thereabouts.

“We just need to sort a few things out, and then there is no reason why we can’t go on a run.

“I was aiming for 20 goals, I’m on eight at the moment and we’re halfway through. If I can get another eight and be on 16 then it’s not a bad return for a young lad on loan.

“However, the goals for me are not the main objective at the moment, it’s the results because we’re not too far away from the play-offs and we if we can get on a little run against the teams coming up, then anything can change.”

The loan spell with the U’s is very different to the one he experienced with Oxford United last season.

Although he made 23 appearances for Oxford, he only made two back-to-back starts. Smith then went on loan to Shrewsbury for the second half of the season, appearing three times.

“Going on my first loans last season was definitely a massive learning experience, not just in football but the environment you are going into, the people you meet and the way you conduct yourself,” he said.

“I feel like it set me up nicely to come into a situation like this. Every week I’m learning something new and gaining experience that will help me later in my career.

“I feel like last year, on my first loan from a Championship club, I was a bit naive on what I was expecting to go there and do.

“The season wasn’t going how everyone was planning it to go, and I felt as the youngest lad there, on my first loan, I didn’t know how to handle certain situations.

“I let the disappointment of not playing every week get into my head and it knocked my confidence.

“I don’t think I played more than two games in a row, now I’m on 25 games in a row.

“I think first loans can go either way, you can either do really well or have an absolute stinker. It wasn’t a stinker, I just didn’t get to play the games I wanted to play. If the team isn’t doing well, then as a striker it’s even harder for you to score goals.

“I just felt I learnt a lot and I was grateful for that opportunity which set me up nicely to come into a club where I would be ready to play and prove what I can do.

“Being a young lad with not a lot of experience, you only learn from playing games and if you’re not playing games, you can’t learn your trade in anyway.

“Training is completely different. In games, you’re actually experiencing what you need to do because the games are what matters and if you’re not playing, you can’t learn.”

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