Is Northampton's Adam Smith the best goalkeeper in League One?
From being sacked by current Premier League champions Leicester City, after his part in a racist sex video, to becoming a title-winning member of the PFA League Two Team of the Year, it’s fair to say that it’s been quite an eventful twelve months for Northampton Town goalkeeper Adam Smith.
Smith, alongside Tom Hopper and James Pearson (son of ex-Leicester manager Nigel Pearson), was fired from the Foxes following an investigation into allegations that they were racially abusive whilst performing sex acts when on a post-season tour in Thailand last year.
Fortunately for him, ex-Northampton Town manager Chris Wilder wasted no time in giving Smith a chance at instant redemption and signed him only a matter of days after the events in Thailand exploded into the headlines of the media.
Since then, his career has gone from strength to strength, becoming a leader on the pitch and an indispensable member of Chris Wilder’s, and now Rob Page’s, starting line-up.
Smith, in many ways, is the epitome of the perfect Football League goalkeeper. He commands his box supremely, is quick off of his line and is not afraid to make himself look big in the face of oncoming attackers in a one-on-one situation – more often than not coming out on top.
His shot-stopping ability is second to none as well, producing a more than impressive show reel of saves last season.
More than anything, Northampton Town’s Player of the Year for 2016 carries a level of consistency that is needed to compete at the highest levels, keeping 15 clean sheets from 46 league matches and conceding a mere average of a goal a game.
Arguably, the young goalkeeper spurred the Cobblers through a tricky and congested month of February by keeping five clean sheets in six games, a run which included key games against fellow title chasers Oxford United and Leyton Orient.
The best benchmark for Smith’s consistency comes with his recent inclusion in the Football Manager Team of the Season at the annual Football League Awards, where he fought off competition from all 72 Football League clubs to be selected as the man between the sticks.
When considering the circumstances in which he left the Foxes last June, the dramatic resurgence of Smith is even more impressive.
Previously disgraced and ridiculed in the eye of the sport, Smith has resurrected his career in spectacular fashion and in a way that Hopper and Pearson haven’t been able to do – so much so that the air of animosity surrounding his move to Northampton in the early stages has all disappeared, now replaced with the atmosphere of a fan favourite for the League One side.
Smith’s form last season rendered him a player in demand, particularly during the January transfer window when Premier League sides Burnley and Swansea were in the race to sign the 23-year-old, yet he’s insisted that he’s not moving away from Sixfields any time soon.
With key players from last season in Ricky Holmes and Nicky Adams leaving Sixfields over the summer, the Cobblers have done a great piece of business in warding off other clubs and keeping Smith for another year; if Smith had gone as well, it could have become a real uphill battle for Northampton to avoid relegation come May.
Instead, the Cobblers have done well to avoid a repeat incident when former goalkeeper Mark Bunn, now at Aston Villa, was leading them in their previous charge to League One.
Bunn, who appeared over 100 times for the Cobblers, attracted the attention of various bigger clubs after a promotion-winning season for Northampton back in 2005/06, eventually leaving for Premier League side Blackburn Rovers two years later.
The season after he left, Northampton were relegated back to League Two – and it could be said that a similar occurrence may have been in the pipeline this season if Smith had moved too.
Despite his spectacular form last season, the challenge of League One will undoubtedly prove to be a whole new proposition for the ex-Leicester City man, yet if Smith can carry his League Two form over to League One then the Cobblers could be set to raise a few eyebrows as they set out to cement their position in the third tier of English football.
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