Six weeks ago, even the most fervent Stirling Albion fan would have struggled to argue a case for them winning promotion from Ladbrokes League 2. But after five wins on the bounce, they’re closing in on the top five. And nobody deserves more credit for that feat than forward Darren Lee Smith.
Ladbrokes News caught up with the Binos ace on the back of his winner against Annan Athletic, to discuss everything from manager Dave Mackay’s methods, to promotion hopes and the Forthbank teammate who’s wangled the best carpool deal in Scottish Football…
Ladbrokes News: Stirling Albion are in fantastic form right now, with five wins on the bounce in Ladbrokes League 2. What’s been the key to that sequence of great results?
Darren Smith: The main thing has been becoming more solid defensively. We’ve only conceded once during this run, by limiting the sides we’re up against to very few opportunities.
At the other end, we’ve been pretty clinical – and thankfully I’ve taken the chances I’ve had during the last couple of games. Obviously, that’s very pleasing on a personal level, but the main thing is winning games and chasing down those promotion play-off spots.
We’ve scored quite a few late on, as well, which I think tells you something about the resilience in the squad – and the fact we’ve got some really good individual players in the squad who can step up, late in games, has been vital. It’s also testament to our fitness levels and how hard we work in training.
LN: You’re seven points outside the play-off spots with eight games left, but you still have games against the likes of Elgin City remaining. Do you think it’s a gap you can claw back?
DS: Mathematically, it’s still very possible – so we need to take the approach of ‘we can do it’. I think I’d have been hesitant to be so positive a month or so back, but with the form we’re in, the whole squad are focused on catching the likes of Annan Athletic and Elgin.
Confidence and momentum are so key in football, and right now we all believe that we can continue this winning run.
I do think we’ll be very disappointed if we don’t make the top five, because we were hopeful of winning the title before the season, with play-offs as the minimum, but we’re looking really good as a side right now, so it’s still possible.
LN: You’re in great form yourself, and have scored in two of the last five games. What would you say are your biggest strengths, in terms of making the difference in matches?
DS: Oh, I don’t know. What’s a modest answer? [*Laughs*] I think movement and reading of the game is vital to the way I play. I make some really good runs to create good scoring opportunities for myself, or to link up with the guys around me.
But part of the reason I manage to be effective is because of the players around me. I need the right balls to come, so it works both ways!
I’m a little disappointed in my goal tally this season [eight in all competitions], but I’m starting to pick up on that front now, so it’s just a case of getting as many as I can before the end of the season.
LN: Another man impressing right now and getting among the goals, is Sean Dickson. Is he someone you’re enjoying linking up with? It certainly looks that way.
DS: Sean’s someone I’ve played with a lot over the years. We were together at Stenhousemuir, and he’s been a great signing for Stirling Albion.
As a player, you sometimes have an intrinsic link with someone, and it’s like that with me and Sean. We know what kind of runs the other’s going to make, and so we link up very well.
Sean has been brilliant during the past couple of months. He’s been very creative, chipped in with goals and just worked extremely hard in the middle of the park, and that’s galvanised the whole team and helped improve our results massively.
It’s good to have him around as well, because it’s handy for us to car-share! Well, it’s handy for him anyway. Sean doesn’t drive, so I have to take him around everywhere! [*Laughs*] I don’t know how he’s managed to wangle that one, but he’s managed to over the last four years.
LN: Your gaffer, Dave Mackay has impressed during his first four months at Forthbank. What’s he been like to play and train under?
DS: He’s obviously new to management, which makes it tougher for him coming in, but everything’s gone really well since he arrived – if you look at performances, results, morale within the squad, it’s all very positive.
Even when we’ve had a few bad results, we’ve generally bounced back well – and the manager has been a breath of fresh air. He’s brought in some new ideas, and on a wider note, it’s good having young Scottish managers in the Ladbrokes SPFL.
I like the style of football we’re playing right now, as well. As a player, the gaffer was obviously a defender, but very good going forward. And I think that’s the blueprint he has for us here – be solid at the back, but once you get the ball into attacking areas, try and be as creative and play as much football as you can.
LN: You’re averaging crowds of over 500 this season. As someone who’s been with the club for a few years now, what do the Stirling Albion support mean to you? And how big of an impact does it make to see so many fans turning out?
DS: It’s great. To be honest, I don’t think our performances at Forthbank have been as good as the ones we’ve produced away from home. So I think there’s more we can do at home to entertain the fans who turn out to support us.
They always turn out in good numbers, and it’s great as a player to have that kind of support behind you – so I hope that we can repay them with a few really great performances at home before the season ends.
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