Smith glad to be leading the line for Leeds

Striker returns from midfield exile to help Premiership strugglers while partner faces conflict of interest
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The Independent Football

Alan Smith is happy to be back up front, which he hopes will again spell trouble for the rest of the Premiership.

With Smith alongside Mark Viduka in attack, the pair responded to their caretaker manager Eddie Gray's call to arms ahead of Tuesday night's 4-1 demolition of Wolverhampton Wanderers. The much-needed win lifted spirits around Elland Road and also lifted the club off the foot of the table as they traded places with Wolves.

Key to the win, which ended a run of seven successive defeats - six of them in the League -was the fact that Smith was back in tandem with Viduka. They have often terrorised defences in the past but due to circumstances, Smith has been regularly asked to play midfield or wide on the right, something he has done without question.

With Smith and Viduka scoring the first and last goals in the win, the indication now is that Gray will pair them together for the rest of the season, and that makes the 23-year-old England international happy.

"Me and Vidukes have not played together many times this season, but when we do we cause problems," Smith said. "Eddie said to us in the dressing-room before the game, 'If anybody is going to keep us up, then you two are'. We put on a good performance and if me and him can keep playing like that then I am sure we can stay up.

"It helps when you've players playing in their own positions again. Personally, I'd not played up front with Mark since 29 November prior to these last two games. Look at Dominic Matteo. He went back to centre-half and he was outstanding. When you've good players in their proper positions it makes a difference.

"I loved playing up front. That's my natural position, but I'm still learning how to play there because I'm only 23. It feels like I've played nearly 100 games in midfield. I missed out on the World Cup because I was playing for the team in the middle of the park. I've done that again this season, but in this game I've proved I can play up front again."

Leeds stirred memories of past performances, with Matteo and James Milner adding the second and third goals on a night when Leeds scored four for the first time since last April.

They still face an uphill struggle if they are to save themselves, particularly as another club versus country problem has arisen over Viduka, who has been selected to play for Australia in a friendly against Venezuela less than 72 hours ahead of the visit to Old Trafford in 10 days' time.

The Wolves manager, Dave Jones, is worried that his side could now be subjected to more physical tactics after Smith and Viduka out-fought his defence. What concerns Jones is that, but for a 15-minute spell after Vio Ganea's 21st-minute equaliser, his players were muscled out of a match they could not afford to lose, in particular by Leeds' forwards.

"The second half we were out-bullied in certain departments which is unusual for us," Jones said. "Too many people lost personal battles all over the pitch. No matter where you are in the table, the more personal battles you win as a team the better you will play.

"But we never won enough battles. Leeds put us under a lot of pressure and the two lads up front did really well. They bullied us. The referee allowed them to do it sometimes. He allowed too much shoving and pushing, and when we had a go back at them he gave a free-kick against us.

"That will happen and you will feel disheartened. We haven't been bullied before, instead we've been bullying other teams and we've dug in and scrapped, but for some reason they have turned the tables on us.

"However, too many players played below what I expect of them," Jones added. "I'm angry with them and they've been told in no uncertain terms what we expect."

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