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SMITH: "WE HAVE TO FEEL WE CAN BEAT ANYONE"

The second half of the 2020/21 campaign had its ups and downs for winter signing Eric Smith, who put pen to paper on a long-term contract in April. Injuries restricted him to just five appearances, though all five of those games ended in victory. Smith now wants to remain injury-free next season and help the team continue on its journey.

Eric Smith had to be patient for the opportunity to don the brown-and-white jersey for the first time but eventually made his debut in the thrilling 4-3 win at Heidenheim in late January, some three-and-a-half weeks after arriving in Hamburg. "I'd been on holiday and had to get match fit again first, so I was obviously delighted when I finally returned to action at Heidenheim," said the 1.92m/6'3" midfielder. Operating as a ball-playing destroyer, the Swede put in more fine performances in the 2-1 defeats of Sandhausen and Nürnberg and the 3-2 victory over Darmstadt. 

Things were going swimmingly for Smith but in late February he was suddenly knocked back by a calf injury that kept him out for almost two months. "It's never nice to be injured," said the No18 looking back. "It was tough for me because it meant I missed the derby as well." Smith worked hard in rehab and returned to the side in April, but not for long. He had been on the pitch for just 15 minutes of the 2‑1 home defeat of Fürth when a problem with his right ankle brought his season to a premature end. Smith could have gritted his teeth and carried on, but with the threat of relegation already banished, the decision was taken, in agreement with the coaching team, not to take any further risks. "The season didn't end the way I hoped. It's a shame I missed the last few games. I would have liked to play but we took a joint decision that letting the injury fully heal was more important."

The midfielder remained in Hamburg after the final game of the season at Regensburg to continue working his recovery at the ENDO Rehab Centre. "I did a lot for my physique and could walk without any problems. My foot responded well." All being well, he will go into the new season fully fit and is already looking forward to it: "It's a really interesting league with lots of big names. Looking at the clubs involved, it could even be the first division."

Smith aims to go flat out in pre-season to secure as much playing time as possible next term. Though things could have gone better for him personally since his arrival at the club, he goes into the new campaign full of optimism. "It was crazy what we did from January. We played some really good football and got lots of wins. When I came here, we only had eight points. Normally when you're down at the bottom, you battle and hit long balls most of the time, but that's not what we did. We were in a tough situation, but we played with lots of courage and stuck to our game. That's the most important thing for me looking back." With the exception of the 3-2 home win over Darmstadt, when the Boys in Brown enjoyed some good fortune right at the end, Smith emphasised that chance played no role in their best period of the season: "We got the wins not because we were lucky but because we played really well, simple as that. That's one of the best feelings you can have. Going into next season we have to feel we can beat anyone."

Previously on loan from KAA Gent, the Swede was thrilled to seal a long-term deal at the Millerntor in late April, having played for four different clubs in the last four years. St. Pauli is the place Smith calls home now: "In recent years I've been here six months, then there six months. Under those circumstances, it's hard to settle in anywhere. When I came to St. Pauli, I knew straightaway that I wanted to stay longer if the opportunity arose rather than leave again, so I'm delighted it's worked out. I don't just want to develop my own game, I want to help us develop our game as a team and I'm really looking forward to it."

 

Photos: FC St. Pauli/Witters

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