Bognor Regis Town hotshot Dan Smith is convinced he can return to the Football League – but the only thing on his mind is firing the Rocks to promotion.
The confident 20-year-old striker has bagged 21 goals in all competitions this season to help put Jack Pearce’s side in play-off contention.
Not bad for a player in only his second full season playing up front having operated deeper as a youngster at Portsmouth.
“It was my second year as a scholar when Kenny Jackett [Portsmouth manager] saw me as a striker,” he explained to The NLP. “Before then I’d always been a number 10 and they also started playing me as a defensive midfielder to try and work on my defensive side.
“He thought I was really good in the air, I could run and finish well and would be a good fit for a number nine in his team. He was pushing for me and liked me.”
But, as a first-year pro, first-team opportunities were limited and if they did come then Smith found himself either starved of service or playing out-of-position – even called upon to start at right-back in one Checkatrade Trophy fixture.
Last season, he went out on loan to Bognor where he scored 12 goals in 19 games but tore his hip flexor playing too many matches.
“I was getting called back to Pompey to play for the reserves and I did six or seven Saturday-Tuesdays which killed me and I was out for two-and-a-half months,” he added. “When I returned I went to Cork City but the manager [John Caulfield] got sacked three games later.”
As a result, Smith fell out of favour at the League of Ireland Premier Division side and then suffered another blow when Jackett didn’t extend his contract in the summer, prompting him to make a permanent return to Nyewood Lane.
“Looking back, I’m genuinely better off,” he said. “I’m playing week-in, week-out. I had a few clubs higher up who wanted me to go in on trial but I just wanted to play. I wanted to go to Bognor, bang in some goals this season and enjoy my football, and people will take note.
“If I stay injury-free I think I can hit that target by the end of the season. I wasn’t ready last year – or at the start of this season – to be a League One striker but at the end of this season I think I could be.
“At the start of the season, we were in the bottom three. We’re playing loads better now and we believe we can get promoted. I’m completely focused on scoring goals for Bognor and achieving just that.”