Smith's steeled for Meadow march to avoid a cup shock

Gary Smith reckons Shettleston must guard against an Irvine Meadow backlash when they face the West Region champions in their Emirates Junior Cup fourth-round replay.

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Shettleston striker Gary Smith played for the Motherwell first team
Shettleston striker Gary Smith played for the Motherwell first team

The one-time Motherwell striking starlet grabbed the spotlight with both Town goals as the Central First Division outfit stormed back from 2-0 down to eke out a 2-2 Meadow Park draw on Saturday.

He and his team-mates have every reason to be feeling confident about inflicting even more pain on the Ayrshire big guns when they host them in a Greenfield Park replay. How-ever Smith knows from cruel experience not to be counting his chickens just yet.

His caution is all the more understandable when one reflects on the 21-year-old's own playing career that had him come to the fore initially at Westpark Boys' Club and then with Queen's Park under-19s to earn a step up to Motherwell.

He developed further under ex-Cambuslang Rangers midfielder Gordon Young in the Well youth side to earn a two-year full-time contract.

This rise to prominence finally scaled the heights at the start of the 2010/11 season when Craig Brown promoted Gary into his first-team squad and he made his debut as a second-half substitute in the 1-0 Uefa Cup win over Icelandic side Breidablik.

"Taking part in a game of that magnitude was just an unbelievable experience and it is something I will never forget," he said.

"But this was no fairytale and my opportunities to impress were few and far between, which is only to be expected when guys of the quality and experience of Jamie Murphy and John Sutton were holding down the striking places."

He went on: "I did manage another couple of substitute outings that season against Dundee United and Inverness but, once Craig Brown left for Aberdeen, I dropped right out of the picture under Stuart McCall and my confidence took a dent.

"Eventually it was thought best if I went out on loan to Stenhousemuir where I played regularly and netted a few goals, but that was not enough to prevent Motherwell releasing me at the end of last season."

Craig found his striking services in demand at a number of SFL clubs but suffered a setback when injuring knee ligaments during a pre-season training stint at Airdrie that sidelined him for the next three months.

He said: "It was during my injury lay-off that Shettleston manager Hugh Kelly contacted me right out of the blue with the offer of physiotherapist treatment at his club and I went along for a few sessions.

"It helped my recovery to train alongside the other guys and once fully fit I turned out in a game against Neilston where I scored a couple of goals.

"I decided to stick around and sign for Shettleston where my dad Scott had played during his footballing career.

"My goals tally is up to eight now, four of which have come in the Emirates Cup, but I'd like to think there are more to come. I'm still learning to play the game at this level which is a lot more physical than I'm used to."

Turning his attention to this week's replay joust, he said: "We probably shot ourselves in the foot by giving them too much respect and the manager made that point at half-time and urged us to have a real go at them.

"We fully merited our draw even though it took a late penalty kick to even up the scores, so starting the replay as we finished could see them rattled again.

"Irvine Meadow are easily the biggest club I've faced in the Juniors and if we can beat them then I don't see why Shettleston should fear anybody in the Emirates Cup."

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