NEW DAD CRAIG IS NAPPY CHAPPY

In­jury hell ends

The Football League Paper - - NEWS - By Jamie Holt

CRAIG MACK­AIL-SMITH has just spent 13 months on the side­lines nurs­ing an Achilles in­jury, not to men­tion his new daugh­ter, and he’s re­cently turned 30.

Lesser mor­tals might ac­cept it’s the be­gin­ning of the end of a ca­reer that has brought him from St Al­bans City to the brink of the Pre­mier League – but not the Brighton striker.

Mack­ail-Smith – who made his long-awaited re­turn from the bench against Barns­ley on April 5 – in­sists he can re­turn to his best form in time for next term with the ben­e­fit of a full pre-sea­son.

But the Scot­land in­ter­na­tional, who has picked up an­kle and groin nig­gles dur­ing the course of his re­turn to fit­ness, has some more im­me­di­ate aims with the Seag­ulls cur­rently soar­ing to­wards a play-off place.

“This sea­son there’s only a few games to go, but we’re push­ing for the play-offs and I think that helps,” he said. “It gives us, and me, some­thing to play for.

Nig­gles

“I def­i­nitely feel I can be the same player. It’s been a long time, it’s just nice to get back on the pitch and put the past in the past.

“It’s been dif­fi­cult, miss­ing out on the play-offs with Brighton last year es­pe­cially, but you al­ways know lit­tle nig­gles might oc­cur and you could be out for a long time.

“These lit­tle in­juries are al­ways there, you’ve just got to ad­just. I’ve been lucky be­cause this is the first time I’ve had an in­jury of this length.

“I did get down when I got those in­juries. I was get­ting closer and closer to a come­back and then some­thing else would break down. “I’ve trained re­ally hard and done ev­ery­thing I can do to get back play­ing like I used to.”

Much has changed on and off the pitch since Mack­ail-Smith last stepped foot on the field be­fore that 0-0 draw with Barns­ley at the be­gin­ning of this month. On it, he now takes in­struc­tions from Os­car Gar­cia rather than Gus Poyet while off it the new dad has been keep­ing him­self busy with eight-month-old Isla.

“She’s been amaz­ing,” he says. “She’s lifted my spir­its a lot so I wasn’t get­ting down on my­self.

“She brings a mas­sive smile to my face ev­ery day, she’s been a god­send and it’s made me re­alise that ev­ery­thing I do is for her.

“I’ve been des­per­ate to be in and around the squad, but I’ve not had the op­por­tu­nity to do that, so he (Gar­cia) hasn’t had a glimpse of what I am ca­pa­ble of.

Progress

“His style is not too dis­sim­i­lar to Gus’, which suits me, but to be fair we haven’t talked too much, it hasn’t re­ally been nec­es­sary with me so far away from play­ing. His staff have been keep­ing him in­formed of my progress.”

Gar­cia and his staff will be keen to re­turn Mack­ail-Smith to the fold as soon as pos­si­ble with his record of 20 goals from 74 ap­pear­ances be­fore in­jury struck in March 2012.

They will be equally ea­ger fi­nally to link him up with Leonardo Ul­loa – signed for £2mil­lion in Jan­uary last year. And Mack­ail-Smith is also des­per­ate to see how they dove­tail.

“I think we’ve played 45 min­utes to­gether since we’ve both been at the club,” he added.

“He’s a great striker with great ca­pa­bil­i­ties, and in a way it has been good to sit back and see what he does.

“I know where he moves, how he op­er­ates, and watch­ing him I know we will be a re­ally good part­ner­ship.

“If you look at the teams do­ing re­ally well this sea­son, the likes of Le­ices­ter and Burn­ley, their suc­cess has been built on a strong front two.

“Next sea­son hope­fully Leo and I can forge that and get us pro­moted if we don’t go up through the play-offs this sea­son.”

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

OLD STYLE: Craig Mack­ail-Smith cel­e­brates a goal

PART­NER­SHIP: Leonardo Ul­loa could be ideal co-striker

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