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Exclusive: We speak to Port Vale protégé Nathan Smith



Port Vale’s 20-year-old centre-half Nathan Smith is unlikely to have been dreaming of plying his trade in the top tier of English football during his years of development in the academy of the Burslem club. In fact, it is something that is unlikely to have crossed his mind even as recently as July, when Smith was fresh from a successful loan spell at National League club Torquay United and simply hopeful of getting a chance in the Vale first-team as he reported in for pre-season, the first at the club under new manager Bruno Ribeiro, a close friend of José Mourinho.

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Born in April 1996 in nearby Madeley just over the North Staffordshire-Cheshire border, Smith grew up a boyhood fan of the Valiants’ local rivals Stoke City. The Potters back then plied their trade in what is now the EFL Championship, as did Port Vale themselves, and the Old First Division three years earlier had been rebranded with its current tag of the Premier League.

20 years and two loan spells later, Nathan Smith earned himself the accolade of the EFL’s Young Player of the Month for August after breaking into Port Vale’s first-team in pre-season, and if the reckonings of his manager and club chairman Norman Smurthwaite are to have any substance, Smith is a player who has a realistic chance of one day making it in the top flight.

Despite how his career has taken off so quickly, the 20-year-old centre-half keeps some words of advice with him, that he has kept in mind ever since his days in the academy.

“I remember being told play every game like it’s your last game. And basically it makes me think don’t play with any regrets and come off thinking I could’ve done this or that differently, that’s the thing that stuck with me”.

A thigh injury to Ribeiro’s first summer signing, Dutch defender Kjell Knops, forced the manager’s hand into giving Smith a chance in pre-season. He has exceeded expectations and seized his chance with both hands to the extent that within less than two months, he had become a regular in central defence, and had been rewarded with a three-year contract extension before scooping the EFL Young Player of the Month award. He has since gone on to start in all of Port Vale’s League One games so far this season.

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“I was very happy with it”, says Smith on winning the accolade. “It’s nice to be given an award but afterwards you’ve just got to put it to one side and keep working hard and going forward”.

“It fills me full of confidence knowing that you’ve got the backing from the manager, you’re playing in the team every week and doing well, but you can’t think about it too much or let it get to your head.”

“You’ve got to keep working hard because football can change very quickly”.

The winning of such an award certainly puts him in quality company. The list of former winners of the Young Player of the Month award who have gone on to play in the Premier League is a long one, going right back to the very first winner, Chelsea’s Victor Moses, in December 2009, during his Crystal Palace years.

Other winners of the award who have gone on to play in the Premier League include Charlie Austin (March 2010), Connor Wickham (April 2010), Steven Caulker (November 2010), Danny Ings (April 2011), Jonjo Shelvey (November 2011), Wilfried Zaha (October 2012), Sam Byram (February 2013), Dele Alli (August 2014) and Demarai Gray (December 2014). At first glance, it undoubtedly sets a precedent.

Despite it being Smith’s breakthrough season in League One, club chairman Norman Smurthwaite has already hinted that the defender is attracting admirers from the higher echelons of the football pyramid, though of course Smith’s new deal, set to run until 2020, would give the Valiants leverage if any negotiations were to be made in the January transfer window or later.

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His chairman however praises him for his “motivation by the craft” of the sport, rather than being motivated by money, and than any deal completed regarding the player would be nothing less than the right move for the good of the youngster’s career. Smith himself however refuses to be drawn on such speculation, despite the fact he has admitted he has been forced into re-assessing his personal goals for the season.

“I’m enjoying life under Bruno (Ribeiro) massively”, he says.  “He’s given me my chance and its made my career progress quicker than I thought”.

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“At the start of the season I was planning on hopefully just getting into the side here and there but he’s given me my chance and hopefully I can continue doing well.”

“My personal target is just to play as many games as possible really. At the start of the season it was to get into the team, I’ve done that so of course that has changed. So now I just want to play as many games as I can and do as well as possible for the club.”

Across their five league matches back in August, Vale won three of them, picked up ten points, conceded just two goals and Smith scored his first goal – the winner in a 1-0 victory at home to Rochdale. He added another soon after, another winner in Port Vale’s 1-0 Checkatrade Trophy triumph over Derby County’s U-23 side.

The youngster let out a chuckle upon being quizzed over his secret of being a goalscoring centre-half, explaining that from his perspective there isn’t particularly a great deal involved in excelling at the art, though the smirk suggests the compliment was much appreciated.

His centre-half partner Remie Streete- once a trainee at Newcastle United-, with whom Smith has formed an excellent partnership, has also been getting in amongst the goals, with both players now on three each for the season. Impressive when one considers that they are only 20 and 22 years of age respectively, and playing regular football at the heart of Bruno Ribeiro’s new-look Vale defence.

“I wouldn’t say there’s any secret to being a goalscoring centre-half, it’s just a case of being in the right place at the right time. It’s nice to score goals for your team, but as a pair we (Remie and I) concentrate more on keeping clean sheets”.

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One of the most impressive performances the two have put in together was in new boss Bruno Ribeiro’s first competitive match in charge, where the Valiants battled well to earn a point at promotion-hopefuls Bradford on the opening day of the season. It was also more notably of course, Smith’s competitive debut for the club, played in front of a crowd that was little under 19,000 at Valley Parade. A task made all the more daunting for Smith by the mission of marking Bradford’s potent 6ft 4in target man James Hanson.

“There were definitely a few nerves”, Smith recalls with a grin. “It was my first appearance in the league and especially in front of a crowd as big as that I was full of nerves before kick-off. But as the game gradually wore on I feel like I grew more comfortably into the game”.

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So considering all the headlines that young Nathan Smith has been grabbing over the last couple of months, what actually goes into moulding an academy player into a future Premier League hopeful? As well as the advice he takes forward from his academy days, there is the example of one top-flight star which he feels has had an effect on his game.

“When I was growing up I used to love watching John Terry”, Smith recounts. “I loved the way that he’d go out and lead his team, no-nonsense defending, and that’s definitely something that I feel has rubbed off on me.”

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A critical aspect in Smith’s development however came from him going out on loan and getting first-team experience lower down the football pyramid. It is an ethos which was preached by former Vale boss Rob Page and has continued under the Ribeiro regime, with some of Vale’s other academy prospects, hopeful of emulating Smith’s success, now undergoing the very same learning curve themselves.

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Smith had his own message for the players that fall under this category. These include winger Ryan Lloyd, currently out on loan at Chester, goalkeepers Sam Johnson, Harry Pickering and Ryan Boot who are enjoying spells out on loan at Gateshead, Kidsgrove and Worcester respectively, right-back James Gibbons on-loan at Leek Town and midfielder Billy Reeves who is wracking up minutes with Witton Albion.

“I’d say playing games, competitive football against men is definitely something I’d advise to anyone coming through the youth system.”

“Playing competitive football, there’s nothing like it, you can’t recreate that in the academy”.

Smith’s first-ever spell out on loan was within the local area, when he put pen to paper for a season with Northern Premier League outfit Stafford Rangers, and Smith was more than happy to speak about the benefits of that experience.

“It was my first loan spell, so it felt a bit weird going out and away from the club, but regular competitive football definitely improved me as a player and again I’d advise any young players to go out and get games if the opportunity is there”.

The big turning point in Smith’s development however would come the following year in the 2015/16 season, when he was loaned out to National League outfit Torquay United. It was at the time the highest level the youngster had played at in his competitive career, and he was forced to adapt quickly after enduring a testing first-half of the season at Plainmoor.

The Gulls were entangled in relegation trouble in the National League, after having won just three times in 23 games before Christmas, two of those wins coming in their opening three games of the season. However a late season run that culminated in ten wins from 16 matches kept Torquay up relatively comfortably.

Smith was an integral part of that side, making 39 appearances throughout the season, whilst Torquay manager Kevin Nicholson hailed the youngster as being a “freak of nature”. Smith himself recognises this season as the moment when his career really began to upturn rapidly.

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“Going out on loan to Torquay benefitted me massively”, he says. “That was the big learning curve of my career so far I would say”.

Port Vale chairman Norman Smurthwaite is also under no illusions as to the extent to which the experience has aided in Smith’s development. The loan spell almost constitutes a metamorphosis in his view, in that Smith went to Torquay a boy “and came back a man”. These words were also echoed to an extent by former Vale manager Rob Page when he spoke about the purpose of young players going out on loan, and featuring regularly in the team at clubs where it matters if you’re in a side that gets beaten on a Saturday afternoon. Page labelled the concept an experience which would help Vale’s youngsters become men. Smith himself, a beneficiary of this system, would agree with such an assertion.

“Kevin (Nicholson) helped me as a player both on and off the pitch and the experience helped me grow up, especially living away from home and going down to Torquay”, says Smith in recalling the experience.

“It has definitely helped my development the most so far. It was the step I needed to move forward”.

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His exploits at Torquay didn’t go unappreciated amongst the Gulls faithful either, and the Vale youngster cleaned up at their end of season awards, scooping the club’s Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year awards, and it is an experience which brings a smile to Smith’s face when discussed.

“I was over the moon when my name was read out, and it’s something you remember, especially within a loan spell away from the club and it’ll stay with me forever. But mostly it has given me confidence in going forward.”

And it is going forward which is certainly the focus for the local lad who is fulfilling his ambition of representing the club which nurtured him and moulded him into a professional footballer. Port Vale, who finished 12th under Rob Page last season, have been in amongst the top six consistently so far this season under the oratory of former Leeds and Sheffield United player Bruno Ribiero. Recently however, the Valiants have been cut two points adrift of the playoffs after a run of four games without a win in October.

It is a run which Smith and his teammates are determined to put right, and although his future may well lie elsewhere either in January or beyond, the youngster is keeping his feet firmly on the ground. At present, doing his best for Port Vale, keeping his place in the team and striving to meet the club’s expectations for the season is all that is on the player’s mind; and much like his employers, he is aiming high.

“As a club, our ambitions for the season are definitely to reach the playoffs and be in the promotion mix, we can’t look at anything else. Anything else would be a failure I guess”, Smith explains.

“We want to go up the leagues and make our way as high up as possible”.

A summer of complete overhaul at Vale Park has seen the club more than ever in recent seasons striving to reach for the stars, and an important part of reaching that achievement will be the accumulation of asset value in terms of developing younger players and making substantial turnover on them, a model which has so often paid dividends for Vale’s local rivals Crewe Alexandra down the years. As far as Port Vale are concerned, Nathan Smith may well be the player to set the precedent and get the production line rolling.

Though rather than simply remain content with a constant cycle of selling off the club’s better players, an ethos is being developed of keeping the conveyor belt going and ensuring any money made on young stars is reinvested into the team, in order to build towards the club’s ultimate goal of promotion to the Championship and eventual stability in the second tier, from which point, if they can establish it, the sky may well be the limit.

Whether or not they ultimately achieve that goal, if Nathan Smith can continue to make such remarkable progress, there can be little doubt that he, if not the club in its entirety, certainly will. Another precedent has been set entirely by the company in which he shares his EFL Young Player of the Month accolade, and it seems the potential is very much there for him to hit the very same heights.

Scott is a Port Vale fan who writes regularly for The Boot Room as a freelancer. He is a fan of several sports but most of his experience in journalism comes from football and volleyball. He has produced several works on major Championships for both the FIVB and CEV in the volleyball world out in Switzerland, and is currently studying for a BA Hons in Modern Languages at the University of Oxford.

England National Team

Steph Houghton on leading, going unbeaten with Manchester City and FA developments

Manchester City and England captain Steph Houghton has grown into her leadership role for both club and country. We caught up with the 29-year-old as she chases a fourth FA Women’s Super League career title…



Photo: Reuters

Captain of club and country. Not many players can claim to have achieved that feat during their careers.

For Manchester City Women’s Football Club defender Steph Houghton this was a dream realised at just 25 years of age, when then-head coach Mark Sampson handed her the England Women’s National Team armband on a full-time basis.

“I have had to work hard to become the leader that I am”, she told The Boot Room, in an exclusive interview. “I was quite a young captain getting the armband for both City and England at the same time. In this environment, I feel like I’ve been able to be myself and really grow as a leader.

“There is more responsibility in terms of ensuring everyone is maintaining high standards and sometimes that can be challenging, but ultimately it’s the proudest honour you could have in the game to captain both Manchester City and England.”

Leadership may not have come naturally to the now-29-year-old but, with over 200 clubs appearances and 100 international caps to her name, it is a trait she has acquired through gaining experience and realising new levels of achievement outside of her comfort zone.

This success has seen Houghton discover unchartered territory with England and Manchester City, leading the Lionesses to a third-place finish in the 2014 World Cup finals and the Blues to the club’s first ever Women’s Super League (WSL) title in 2016/17.

The Lionesses, who have become the pride of the nation, came agonisingly close to the World Cup final in Canada, with only a devastating injury-time own goal preventing them from a shot at the most prestigious prize in the women’s game.

Aside from the exemplary team spirit that the squad possesses, Houghton believes that the improved level of England performances over the years comes down to a tactical awareness that has set them aside from their opponents.

“Over the last four years, we’ve been adaptable in the way we play. We are very competitive. We want to win and we’ve found ways to win.

“When I think back to the World Cup in 2015, we played so many different formations that teams didn’t know what we were doing. That is a credit to the coaching staff and all the players who adapted to those different scenarios to outwit an opponent and most importantly win.”

After reaching a landmark 100 appearances for the Lionesses, Houghton celebrated a City milestone earlier this season, marking her club century against former club Sunderland Ladies.

Her 100th game came with a 3-0 triumph against her hometown side, with whom she spent five years at the beginning of her career before enjoying spells with Leeds United and Arsenal Ladies.

Houghton led Arsenal to an FA Cup and Continental Cup double in 2013 and was twice a Women’s Super League winner with the Gunners prior to joining Manchester City in 2014.

“I loved my time at Arsenal, it was a fantastic club and still is, but on a personal level, I wasn’t flourishing as much as I wanted to,” she said.

“Then Manchester City came in, a brand new team that was giving me the chance to play full time, compete in a fantastic stadium and also be closer to home. It really wasn’t an opportunity I could turn down.

The first few months were difficult, but I think in your career you have to go through those moments to come out even better.

“I know I made the right decision and I’m as happy as I could ever be here at City.”

Since making the move from London to Manchester in 2014, the Lionesses’ skipper has earned a number of titles and accolades, not least of which being awarded an MBE in recognition for her personal achievements and contributions to the game.

The Blues skipper is a respected figure both on and off the pitch and has become a huge inspiration to sportswomen everywhere.

Undoubtedly, reaching 100 games with City was a hugely proud moment for the 29-year-old, who has experienced a number of incredible moments throughout her time with the Manchester outfit.

However, she says the club’s domestic success throughout the 2016/2017 campaign remains the personal highlight among all her achievements.

“It was a massive honour and I never thought when I joined the club that I’d be able to play 100 games, but I was fortunate enough to be able to do so.

“There have been some amazing memories, our first Continental Cup final win, we were the underdogs and the feeling that night was unbelievable.

“But, I think winning the double in 2016 and then the FA Cup in 2017, capturing all three domestic trophies, has to up there because of the way we played.

“We went unbeaten and we only conceded four goals and that was a credit to every player and all the staff.”

Already holders of the WSL title and Continental Tyres (League) Cup, after a season without losing during 2016/17, the Blues claimed the full set with an FA Cup final victory over Birmingham City Ladies in May 2017.

For Manchester City Women’s this marked quite an achievement, having turned fully professional only three years earlier – on the back of the creation of the WSL.

After going full-time, City set about the same dominance their men’s side had enjoyed in the transfer market and the league, the outcome of which saw Houghton appear on the club’s radar, with manager Nick Cushing keen to add strong leaders to his ranks.

Houghton credits Cushing, who was named the club’s full-time head coach just a month before she signed for the Etihad outfit, for the significant role he has played in her development, both as a player and a person.

“He is the best coach I’ve ever played under and for me, and for the rest of the players, he’s really developed us into a team that knows a lot more about the game and are much more tactically aware.

“On a personal level, he has helped my game so much over the last four years. We work every day on the finer details, it’s about being good with the ball and without it.

“I owe a lot to him over the last four years, not only on the coaching side but also managing me as a person, really allowing me to be myself and develop as a leader.”

Cushing’s City side remain in an excellent position to challenge for a second league championship this term, just one point behind current leaders Chelsea Ladies, last season’s runners-up, after 11 games. 

Success in the Women’s Super League would have been the main target for the Blues prior to the season, defending the title they worked tirelessly to claim last term. However, the quadruple remains a possibility, with the club still competing on all fronts.

“As a club, we are so far meeting all the objectives we set at the beginning of the season.”

“We’re still competing in the Champions League with the quarterfinals coming up in March. We’re still in the FA Cup and have the Continental Cup final to look forward to, and we’re also challenging for the Women’s Super League.

“Ultimately, we want to keep winning football games and competing in all competitions, so we’re really happy with how the season is going.”

The fabric of a title-winning team comes in its ability to become resolute when the going gets tough and that is exactly what Manchester City showed in their last WSL fixture, against the league leaders.

City’s league hopes looked to be in a perilous position at half-time of their pivotal top-of-the-table clash against the Blues, with the Manchester outfit trailing 2-0 at the break, courtesy of strikes from Millie Bright and Ji So-Yun.

Nonetheless, an excellent second half City performance ensured the points were shared at the Academy Stadium, with goals from Nikita Parris and Georgia Stanway pegging back Chelsea’s first-half advantage.

Defeat would have been a devastating three points lost in the race for the title and, therefore, the eventual draw will be considered a valuable point gained. This game-by-game approach is one that Houghton knows will serve the club well during the run-in.

“This season, we need to take each game as it comes, we know it’s possible and we should be proud of what we’ve achieved, but we’ve still got a long way to go so we’ve got to remain focused if we’re going to achieve success.”

On the continent, City remain unbeaten in the Champions League and will play Swedish champions Linkopings in the quarter-finals in March after reaching the semi-finals of the competition last season.

Houghton and co. were knocked out of Europe by Lyon in 2016/17, and could face the four-time Women’s Champions League winners in the last four if both sides progress from the current round.

“We’ve got to believe. I think we performed well in the Champions League in our debut season, to make it to the semi-finals was an achievement, but we want to build on that.”

Away from the pitch, Houghton acts as an Ambassador for UEFA – a women’s football development role – the purpose of which is to provide models to young females wishing to participate in the sport.

As a leading English female footballer, the City captain holds a strong commitment to accelerating the progress of the women’s game – an objective that has been catalysed by the establishment of the FA WSL in 2010.

Finally committed to developing women’s football, the FA believed creating a viable elite league, which would initially be semi-professional, was to prove vital for the sport’s credibility. This was a decision backed by Houghton.

“The best idea we had was to introduce the FA WSL and having it as a summer league at first allowed clubs to focus on making their teams full time, providing more coaching hours for their players and ultimately drawing in as many crowds as possible, as well as allowing for more tv coverage.”

Initially running over the summer, in July 2016 it was agreed that a calendar shift would take place. This moved the WSL to the winter months, to be played between September and May, in line with other divisions across Europe.

In September 2017 it was announced that the top tier of English women’s football will be only for full-time clubs from 2018-19 after proposed changes to Women’s Super League licences were approved by the FA.

This means that all clubs must re-apply for their places in the division, while new teams could earn licences to join the top tier that will have between eight and 14 teams. In addition, top-flight clubs will be required to run an academy under the new criteria.

This is a significant milestone in the progression of the women’s game and is likely to transform key elements, including the quality of resources and the level of performance on the pitch. Houghton explained the positive impact of such a decision.

“I think it’s the right step now, after making it a winter league, to continue this growth and increase our competitiveness on the international stage.

“There are a lot of big clubs pushing to make it more professional and from an international perspective, that is what you want, everyone training full-time and to be as fit as they possibly can be.

As a club, I think Manchester City have set the standards in terms of the professionalism and ensuring we have access to the same resources as the men’s team, both on and off the pitch.”

A leading figure in the English game, both on the pitch for Manchester City and the Three Lionesses, and as an ambassador for UEFA, Houghton recognises the progress of the women’s game. However, she says there still remains room for improvement. 

“I’m happy with how far the game has come.

“To be able to live my dream of being a professional football player and to be at a club like this is unbelievable and I think the games are now more competitive than they ever were, which makes it all that much better.

“The stadium we play in, the pitches we train on, the crowds that we draw in are incredible too, it’s really grown. It’s important that we keep pushing in all those areas.

“You’d like to see regular TV matches every week, which we’re starting to do. I’m optimistic about what the future holds.”

Decisions made regarding the development of the women’s game may largely sit outside of her influence, but on the pitch, Houghton will be hoping to galvanise City’s pursuit of Chelsea at the top of the WSL, while next year’s World Cup in France will be at the forefront of preparations with the Three Lionesses.

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Aston Villa

Aston Villa’s Albert Adomah on discovering a scoring streak, promotion hopes and his journey to the top

With 13 Sky Bet Championship goals, Albert Adomah is proving to be the catalyst in Aston Villa’s search for promotion. We catch up with the 30-year-old to discuss the season to date..



Albert Adomah
Photo: Reuters

Few players have come further in football than Aston Villa’s Albert Adomah.

Whilst many of his Villa team-mates came through the ranks training at the world class facilities of Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City, his footballing career began at amateur side Old Meadonians.

Whilst studying to become a painter and decorator, his career took off as he moved to join seventh tier club Harrow Borough.

14 goals in 69 games for the London club caught the eye of a host of local non-league and lower league clubs.

Barnet was his eventual destination in January 2008.

Ten years later, and after spells at Bristol City and Middlesbrough, Adomah is taking the Sky Bet Championship by storm.

Discussing his journey to the top with The Boot Room, he revealed that he’s achieved more than he could ever have hoped for as an 18-year-old student playing amateur football at the weekend.

“When I first joined Harrow Borough I had a feeling I would progress to the next level with a hope to one day play at the highest – which is the Premier League and international football and I’ve managed to achieve both of those.

“I wanted to work my way up and I’ve managed to achieve that.”

After play-off heartbreak with Middlesbrough in 2015, Adomah was key to earning his side promotion to the top flight, missing only ten league games across three seasons at the Riverside club.

The winger made his Premier League debut in a draw against Stoke on the opening day of the 2016/17 season under Aitor Karanka, but little did he know that his substitute appearance the following week would be his last for the club.

Summer reinforcements to strengthen the squad to first division quality, after Adomah had helped to get the club left there, and a reported fall out with boss Karanka, left him surplus to requirements.

The now 30-year-old says that he was left with no choice but to leave Tyneside.

“It was time to move on and Aston Villa is a big club with great fans and a lot of history, it felt like a huge opportunity for me.”

By moving to Villa Park, he ensured that he was moving to one of the biggest clubs, if not the biggest, in the English Football League.

Boasting some of the highest attendances in the country, even despite relegation in 2016, there is no denying that the sway of the club has an impact on its players.

“It’s a massive club so when you go out onto the pitch you want to perform well and do well for the club and the main objective of the day is to get the points.”

After years of underperformance, the 2017/18 season finally looks to be putting Aston Villa back on the map with a mid-season revival seeing Steve Bruce’s side climb the table and enter contention for promotion.

For Adomah too, it has been a remarkable season.

“So far on a personal level I think I’ve been doing really well, scoring goals and as a team we have been doing great.

“The result at the weekend didn’t go our way but all we can do is learn from it, work harder and aim to put that right.” 

By averaging almost a goal every other game, with 14 from 29 in all competitions, to date, he has already far surpassed his personal best of 12 goals in 42 games with Middlesbrough in 2013/14.

Cutting in from out wide, his positioning, pace, power and smart finishing has been crucial to his team’s success, leading the club’s goalscoring charts, ahead of the likes of multi-million pound centre forwards Scott Hogan and Jonathan Kodjia.

His goals and assists have contributed a huge 18 points to Villa’s fight to return to the top flight, and he is not ready to take the foot off the gas just yet.

Despite now being deployed out wide, Adomah feels that his past experience through the middle has been pivotal to his success.

“I used to be a striker so when I’m in that position I always have a good feeling I’ll get a chance to score – it’s all about hitting the target.

“Lately whenever I shoot it seems to go in.”

Boss Steve Bruce has even called upon the number 37 to beat the Championship record of goals from a player who isn’t a striker, a record currently set at 20 by then-Cardiff ace Peter Whittingham.

With the business end of the season still to come, that certainly looks achievable, but Adomah is taking his campaign one step at a time.

“Every season my target is 10 goals and 10 assists and so far I have exceeded one of my targets, my next aim would be 15 goals and if I can do that I’ll aim for 20 goals but I try not to put pressure on myself.”

It has been some turnaround for Adomah too, considering that he started only one of Villa’s first six games in 2017/18.

The signing of Bruce favourite Ahmed Elmohamady and loan deals for West Ham flop Robert Snodgrass and Tottenham starlet Josh Onomah upped the pressure on an already crowded area of the squad, with the likes of Andre Green and Jack Grealish getting better and better.

Having celebrated his 30th birthday this season, it would be logical that Adomah would be the player to make way. Instead, he has taken a step up.

Age is just a number to one of Villa’s more experienced professionals, who insists that it is hard work on the training ground that is seeing him improve as he matures into the twilight years of his career.

“I work hard at the training ground to improve myself and on the pitch you try to avoid making mistakes but if they do happen you look to the next game to put it right and learn from it.”

Bruce has, understandably, spoken of the importance of keeping players like Adomah, who he has described as “a catalyst”, at the club if they are to be taken seriously in their quest to return to their rightful place in the Premier League.

Promotion put an end to Adomah’s time at Middlesbrough, but he insists that he is happy at Villa and wants to commit his long term future to the club.

“If a 10 year contract was put on the table I would sign that today.

“I’m loving my time at Villa, it’s going really well and things are going well for the team.

“My family love living in the Midlands so if I was offered a contract I would sign it.”

Having only played for four clubs since going professional, having played over 100 games for all four, he is a loyal man, and he is ready to reap the rewards of that loyalty in Birmingham.

“Yes staying at one club definitely helps, I think it helps in the long run and it’s good for your family life.

“For me as an individual, I have a family so it’s good to have them settled in one place.”

His goal in the derby in February, a moment he says he will tell his grandchildren about, endeared him even more to the fans at Villa Park.

The club’s rise up the table is not yet complete, though, and Adomah is insistent that his side must have their sights set high for the remaining three months of the season.

The team are leading the chasing pack behind Wolves and their nearest competitors, Cardiff, but Adomah believes that he and his team-mates must be ready to pounce if either side slips up.

“We just need to keep on doing well and chase Wolves as they are doing great.

“If we chase Wolves we will have a great chance of automatic promotion and if Wolves slip up perhaps we could win the league… But everything is down to our performances.”

With that success, Adomah could return to one of his greatest achievements: playing Premier League football.

Capped 15 times by Ghana, scoring two goals, he also fulfilled the other dream by appearing for his nation, Ghana.

Making his debut in 2011 under Goran Stevanovic, he became a regular under Kwesi Appiah, featuring in all but one game as the Black Eagles finished fourth in the African Cup of Nations in 2013.

Adomah even fulfilled a dream that seemed so impossible on the parks of south London only six years previously by taking to the pitch in the 2014 World Cup as a substitute as Ghana were beaten by the USA.

The versatile wideman has only made one appearance since, scoring in a friendly under Avram Grant in 2015, but with Appiah now back at the helm and Adomah in the form of his life, it would be premature to rule out a return to the international scene.

“It was a great achievement to go away with my national team and play on the biggest stage in the world. I managed to play 15 minutes against America but unfortunately we lost that game but it’s wonderful to say I was part of the World Cup.

“Hopefully if they call me again I can do a duty for them, I will continue to play well for my club and hope that I get a call.”

Adomah’s story is one of football’s most inspiring, and earning promotion to the Premier League with one of England’s biggest clubs as the leading man would be a fitting chapter to add to an already incredible tale.

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Greg Docherty – Realising a childhood dream with Rangers FC

After completing his dream move to Rangers, midfielder Greg Docherty sat down with The Boot Room to look back at his career to date and the excitement of his time ahead at Ibrox.



Photo: Rangers Football Club

Last Saturday, Greg Docherty fulfilled a childhood dream by stepping out at Ibrox.

But this time, unlike his four previous visits to the home of Rangers Football Club, he was stepping out of the tunnel and onto the pitch as a home player following his January switch over to Glasgow.

Docherty’s home debut might not have gone exactly to plan – with Rangers falling to a narrow loss against Hibernian – but nevertheless, it was an afternoon that he is unlikely to forget anytime soon.

His move from Hamilton Academical, a Scottish Premiership side where he had plied his trade since joining their youth academy as nothing more than a nine-year-old with dreams, was perhaps as anticipated as it was justified considering his head-turning performances during the past 18 months.

For lifelong Rangers supporter Docherty it’s been a whirlwind start to 2018, and talking to The Boot Room in an exclusive interview he recounted the moment he discovered the transfer was in motion.

“Believe it or not I was actually on my way to the Hamilton game against Hearts [on January 24] and I received a phone call to say that the deal had been done and that I was now a Rangers player.

“It was all a bit mad. I still wasn’t sure if I was going to be playing that night but after the phone call I quickly had a chat with […] who said obviously you won’t play because we’ve signed all of the forms, and it’s up to Rangers now to do their stuff.”

The confirmation of a completed deal before the end of the transfer window would have come almost as a relief for the 21-year-old, who admitted that he first heard of Rangers’ interest courtesy of speculation across social media platforms.

“To be honest that’s where you first find out most of it, because social media is so popular these days for breaking news. You hear something then ask around a bit to see if it’s true or not but it’s quite funny how you read news about yourself.”

Fortunately for Docherty this proved to be one social media rumour that came to fruition, and little more than three days after being officially announced as a Rangers player he was taking his place in caretaker manager Graeme Murty’s squad, coming off the bench in the 74th minute in a 2-1 win at Ross County.

A winning start in a Gers shirt was undeniably the perfect way for Docherty to settle any lingering nerves following his well-documented winter transfer, and reflecting on his debut he praised the supporters who immediately back him that night.

“It was special. The reaction I got from the crowd was great – it was an incredible following considering the distance from Glasgow – and even when I was warming up the whole stand and a half that Rangers had been allocated were clapping and saying my name.

“It’s something I have dreamt of for a long time and for that to actually happen was incredible.”

But when one door opens, another one has to close, and Docherty’s move to Rangers signalled the end of his 14-year spell at Hamilton.

The Scotland Under-21 international spent the young days of his career working through the ranks at Hamilton’s esteemed academy – an academy that has seen the likes of James McCarthy and James McArthur graduate and switch to the Premier League – before making his first-team bow at just 17.

After getting a feel for first-team football in the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons, Docherty fully broke into the Hamilton side a year later and it’s fair to say that, from that moment, he never looked back.

He became a stalwart in the Accies’ midfield, going on to make over 100 appearances for them across all competitions, and he insisted that his decision to leave the Club was one that was ultimately made with a heavy heart.

“[I’ll miss] the people. I made a lot of close friends – some of my best friends are still there – and I’ll miss seeing them every day. It was a great place to be, a great place to work, and a great place to play football.

It was a joy for me, it was never a chore or anything like that, and I enjoyed every minute. It gave me a chance. I’ll just miss being in and around the dressing room, because it was a great dressing room, but it was time to move on and push on to the next challenge.”

There’s little doubt that Docherty will always be held in high regard by the home supporters for his efforts during his tenure at the Club, not least for his crucial goal that helped Hamilton edge past Dundee United in the two-legged Scottish Premiership relegation play-off in 2017.

It’s a moment that Docherty himself looks back on with fond memories, too.

“Scoring the goal to keep them in the league, that was it for me.

“Hamilton had shown a lot of faith in me through the years so for me to repay them with that goal to keep them in the league, that was special. Football’s funny sometimes with how it works and for me to score the goal after coming through the youth system was nice for Hamilton.”

It won’t be long before he’s back in familiar territory though, as Docherty and Rangers travel to New Douglas Park on February 18 in a match that’ll be rife with emotion for the academy product.

Football is often known to be an ironic sport at times, and there’s a certain amount of irony about the fact that the youngster from Milngavie all-but sealed the deal when playing against Rangers for Hamilton earlier in the Premiership season.

It was in Hamilton’s 2-0 win at Ibrox back in November – a match that gave the Accies their first victory at Rangers since 1926 – where the youngster excelled, earning an assist and generally catching the eye with a powerful midfield display, and it’s this that could have swayed the board of directors at Rangers into signing on the dotted line.

“In a way I hope so. I wanted to play well because it was against the team I support – it’s funny like that – but I wanted to prove that if I was to play for Rangers then I’d be more then capable.

“After that game I received a lot of nice messages from the fans congratulating me so I knew right away that they had taken to me a little bit. Then once the news came in that Rangers were interested in me the amount of support I received was incredible, and that was another factor in me signing.”

For now, though, Docherty’s time at New Douglas Park is a chapter of the past, and his firm focus remains on pastures new at Rangers – and more predominantly, getting them back to the very top.

Their return to the summit of Scottish football last season after four years of climbing back up the ladder has seen the club back where it belongs, and considering the plight that they have been recovering from since entering into administration in 2012, a third-place finish was an impressive feat on their return to Premiership football last season.

And whilst it seems that Celtic are once again set to reign supreme come the end of the 2017-18 campaign, Docherty is confident that Rangers will be right back on their heels again before too long.

At just 21 years of age Docherty has arguably already reached the pinnacle of the Scottish game by virtue of playing for one of the two notorious Glaswegian giants, and he admitted that he could already see himself spending the majority of his footballing career at Ibrox, aiding the club’s revival.

“You never know. If that was to be the case then I wouldn’t be disheartened by that at all.

“Rangers need to get back to the top, and one of my aims is to get them back there and competing at the highest level – and I’m sure the Rangers fans do too. There’s every chance of that happening over the next few years, I don’t see why not, you’ve just got to believe.

“If I was to stay here for the rest of my career then that would be brilliant but you never know in football and you want to play at the highest level possible.”

After achieving his dream move by the time he even turns 22 it’s clear to see that there’s a long and successful career there for the taking should Docherty avoid serious injury, and there is already growing talks that he could be in contention for a berth in the Scotland squad as the year progresses.

It is a testing time for the Scotland national squad at present, currently without a manager and with friendlies against Costa Rica and Hungary looming in March, but with three Under-21 caps to his name – and with a big move under his belt – Docherty is well-placed to push for a first senior call-up.

Asked about his national team aspirations, Docherty replied:

“Absolutely, I don’t see why not.

“Obviously I’ll take each game as they come but I think that if I start off playing well for Rangers I can’t see why I can’t push into the international team. I’ve already completed one of my targets to get signed by Rangers – but first and foremost I need to establish myself in the Rangers team.”

And this could begin with a first start in a Rangers jersey when they travel to Scottish League One outfit Ayr United in the fifth-round of the Scottish Cup on Sunday, with a quarter-final spot at stake.

It would be a full debut that would no doubt be received well by Rangers fans if social media talk is anything to go by, with Gers supporters urging their new signing to be given the chance to impress in midfield.

If anything, that shows just how highly-rated Docherty is – he’s something of a hot commodity right now.

But he insisted that he’s aware of the competition for places and strength in depth at Ibrox, adding that he feels he is at the right club in order to develop as a young footballer.

“I feel like I need to score more goals, and I need to contribute more. I need to be a more all-round box-to-box midfielder. I think I’ve got the fitness and the strength to do it but I just need to be a bit more aware when I’m on the ball and speed up the play.

“I think that’ll come at Rangers though and I think that’s something they are good at – they’re a very fast-flowing team – and that’s why I’m excited to be playing with them and see what it’s like to play in a game with such high intensity.

“It’s always been difficult to play against Rangers. The movement is always good and they’re always very switched on with what they do – that was another factor in joining, as I wanted to be a part of that. They’re a great side that are building momentum at the moment.”

It is this concept of building momentum that couldn’t be truer on the blue side of Glasgow at this moment in time, with their current position a far cry from the desperate predicament of late 2012.

With Docherty and fellow midfielder Sean Goss arriving in January there’s real potential for a partnership to be grown – one that could be the backbone of this Rangers side for years to come.

The signs are good for the Gers as they strive to compete for a 54th league title, combining energy and youth with some seasoned heads that lends itself to some pleasing football.

As for the immediate future, it may just take another few games for the enormity of the move to fully sink in for boyhood fan Docherty, but it is a scenario that just goes to prove the old-school cliché that dreams can be achieved if you are prepared to work hard enough for them.

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