Last updated : 16 August 2004 By editor

'IT’S TERRIBLY difficult making your debut in a makeshift team, but Alan Smith can be quietly satisfied with his first league appearance for Manchester United. Sure, it was frustrating, chasing, harrying and linking up, with few sniffs of any decent goalscoring opportunities. It was an enthusiastic, if unremarkable, performance that showed that once United’s injured players return, he could prove a valuable orchestrator of the play.

He began brightly, but progressively found it harder to find space and get involved and eventually petered out. Smith is now experienced enough to know that he should have searched out and demanded the ball, rather than letting the game go on around him. Playing up front alone is a tough role to perform. He held the ball up well, won headers against John Terry and linked with the midfield, but without any blistering pace in the team, he found it difficult to bring any runners into the game.

Van Nistelrooy should appreciate the partnership with Smith, an ideal foil for the Holland forward because he will take some of the weight off his shoulders by dropping off and playing as a target man, holding the ball up, being buffeted by defenders, and linking up with the midfield. That should allow Van Nistelrooy to stay more central and concentrate on what he does best, scoring. Even when Ferguson has his full complement of forwards available, I expect Smith to muscle his way into the starting line-up alongside Van Nistelrooy.

Forlán maybe is one of those forwards that history has shown struggle to replicate their form on the bigger stage at Old Trafford. Gary Birtles and Alan Brazil were two examples, though I don’t foresee Smith suffering from stage fright. In crossing the Pennines, he has already shown that he has the attributes to handle the pressure.

'Sir Alex Ferguson will welcome and admire that abrasive edge that has been a thorn in his disciplinary record because the United manager will appreciate they are similar virtues to that of Roy Keane. Smith’s approach appears similar to Keane’s, growling and snarling at his team-mates to pick their game up, which may be partly why the United fans have already taken to him.'