Smith at his best and his worst

The England succession: O'Leary distances himself from speculation as Curbishley's cause is undermined
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The Independent Online

Perhaps it's not so bad after all. Out of the dark, all-consuming confusion of international week came Alan Smith. Leeds United's young purveyor of all things wild and wonderful was at the hub of an energetic, enterprising Leeds display. United won comfortably - albeit at the cost of another injury, this time to their would-be England goalkeeper Nigel Martyn - and enabled the assembled mass to glimpse England's future in a refreshingly cheery light.

Perhaps it's not so bad after all. Out of the dark, all-consuming confusion of international week came Alan Smith. Leeds United's young purveyor of all things wild and wonderful was at the hub of an energetic, enterprising Leeds display. United won comfortably - albeit at the cost of another injury, this time to their would-be England goalkeeper Nigel Martyn - and enabled the assembled mass to glimpse England's future in a refreshingly cheery light.

Fast and feisty, Smith scored one goal, helped to create two more, but tackled with the kind of uncompromising crash-bang-wallop that causes grown men to wince. Sent off for England Under-21s in midweek, only his off-the-leash temperament can stand between him and a sparkling career.

Those mounting the case against him will eagerly offer footage of a nasty-looking second-half challenge on Richard Rufus for which we he was fortunate to escape punishment. At that stage, Charlton had used all three substitutes and, as Rufus hobbled off, were forced bravely to pursue their vain fightback with 10 men. The visiting manager, Alan Curbishley, bit his lip and confessed himself "disappointed with the refereeing"; Smith's own boss, David O'Leary - similarly diplomatic - opined that the tackle hadn't been so bad.

As debatable as that might be, O'Leary's assertions that Smith's "ability is excellent" is indisputable. The teenager was invited to share in another heart-to-heart with his manager in the aftermath of Tuesday's Finnish folly. He is still a fortnight shy of his 20th birthday and if, as O'Leary believes, he has the common sense to learn from his mistakes, then England have a prize procession.

O'Leary will not, incidentally, be his international boss for the foreseeable future - "That I was linked at all [with the England job] only goes to underline the rubbish and speculation that has been bandied about since Kevin Keegan quit," said his programme notes - but England may still be grateful to the kindly Irishman for polishing their gem.

The whole day was tinged with all sorts of international aftertastes. The current incumbent of England's managerial office, Howard Wilkinson, was pinned up on page three of the programme. Page 11 was devoted to the chairman Peter Ridsdale, one of the sage seven charged with making a longer-term appointment. He regretted Keegan's resignation: "The timing left a lot to be desired... had Kevin allowed a little more time, he might have been persuaded at least to stay beyond the Finland match."

Out of England's last match and into the Charlton side came Finnish striker Jonatan Johansson - a fun selection for the much-touted Curbishley, whose inclusion on a few short- lists is surely a well-deserved reflection of his possible longer-term rather than immediate prospects. Not until the closing minutes of the first half did Johansson or his partner Kevin Lisbie play a significant part. Rather, Charlton's defence was over-employed in the face of a Leeds onslaught.

Mark Viduka might easily have taken the match ball before eventually playing his part in United's long-overdue opener seven minutes from the break. He had been thwarted on a one-on-one contest with goalkeeper Dean Kiely and sent two close-range headers off target, but recovered to cushion the pass on to which Smith deftfully pounced to fire his eighth goal of the season.

Leeds endured their most vulnerable patch after the interval. Martyn was required to save nimbly from Graham Stuart and Mark Kinsella before pulling a muscle in making a regulation clearance and being replaced by Paul Robinson.

At once, Leeds doubled their advantage. Smith scurried to the byline and delivered a cross turned in by an airborne Viduka. But, creditably, Charlton allowed them no degree of comfort and Robinson had already produced one agile save before Claus Jensen hit a long-range goal.

The injury to Rufus handicapped Charlton and the issue was settled when Smith flicked on Ian Harte's cross and Viduka scored with the last meaningful touch.

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