Longest serving player looks forward to fixture release and pre-season
With just a week to go until the Sky Bet EFL fixtures are released, excitement is building ahead of the 2016-17 season – both for Hatters fans and players alike.
Nathan Jones’ squad will be returning to Ely Way at the end of next week for individual fitness tests, with pre-season training starting in earnest the following Monday.
Midfielder Jonathan Smith was credited with the Town’s equaliser on the opening day at Accrington Stanley last year, when he deflected a Craig Mackail-Smith effort home in injury-time.
When the League Two calendar is delivered first thing next Wednesday, the 29-year-old says he is expecting another long trip to kick-off what he describes as a “big season” for himself and the club.
“The start of pre-season seems to get earlier and earlier, but once you get the fixtures it all starts to become real again and the excitement starts to hit home,” said Smith, who joined the Hatters from York City in November 2012 and is now the longest-serving senior player at Kenilworth Road following the departures of Jake Howells, Mark Tyler and Alex Lawless.
“Since I’ve been at the club we’ve had Southport, Carlisle and Accrington away on the opening day, so it’ll probably be Hartlepool this year!
“In all seriousness, it’s better to get the longer trips out of the way when the weather is good and there is less chance of a late postponement, but really it doesn’t matter who you get first up; everyone is up for it and it’s like a cup tie, you never know how it’s going to go.
“Last year everyone thought a trip to Accrington would be a good chance of getting off to a flyer with three points, but in the end we were grateful for one and the way their season panned out in reaching the play-offs, it turned out to be a good one.”
Recalling the first of his four goals during 2015-16, Smith says: “It wasn’t a classic by any stretch of the imagination. Macca caught it well, I was running in the six-yard box and it hit me on the chest and went in.
“I think Macca ran off celebrating as well, but we were just thankful to have got one over the line and into their net, however it went in.”
Smith made 41 appearances in all competitions last term, including 37 starts, and he is intent on returning to action as fit as he possibly can be to nail down a place in Jones’ starting XI.
“I was in last Monday for my first fitness tests after some of the lads were in the previous week, then we all return at the back-end of next week for more ahead of pre-season,” said Smith.
“We’ve had our individual programmes to stick to through the close season and the big thing for me this year, with the manager coming in when he did, is to prove to him I’m worth a place in his team every week.
“Ever since I came to the club I’ve been a regular. We had a change of manager when John Still took over from Paul Buckle, and he picked me pretty much every week when I was fit.
“The aim is for me to come back as strong and as fit as I can be to prove myself to Nathan. It's a big season for me.”