HAVING already tasted the sweet and sour of professional football, Alex Smithies isn’t one to get carried away.
So when the highly-rated 22-year-old says he believes he can fulfil his Premier League ambitions as his hometown club’s keeper, it’s worth taking note.
Lifelong Town supporter Smithies has already featured prominently in one promotion success, saving two spot kicks then putting away the crucial penalty himself in that amazing 8-7 shoot-out triumph against Sheffield United in the League I play-off final in May.
Plenty has happened since then, and the academy product – now under the guidance of goalkeeping coach Paul Crichton, who was in the Blades dug-out at Wembley – has seen enough of the Championship to be confident, but certainly not complacent, about the future.
“When I first came into the senior set-up, getting into the Premier League all seemed a bit of a pipedream,” said Smithies, who kept his fifth clean sheet of the campaign, and the 45th of his career, as Town won 1-0 at Barnsley last Saturday to get back into the play-off places.
“I’ve experienced a lot of ups and downs at this club,” added the former England junior star who would have made far more than 144 appearances had it not been for the knee injury which affected his last two seasons and needed two operations to sort out.
“Since Dean Hoyle took over as chairman, there’s been a really positive feel about the place, even when we were missing out on promotion (it was Town’s third consecutive stab at the play-offs last time around).
“Now, when you speak to people in the street, they talk about the new era of Huddersfield Town and it definitely is that.
“We’re finally in the Championship, and as the chairman has said, the first objective is to ensure we stay in it.
“Off the pitch, the club have been preparing for bigger things for a while, and now it’s our job as players to keep moving forward.
“At the start of the season, people were wondering how we would do. Well, we’re in the play-off positions at the moment, and while we know there is a long way to go, it’s a sign that we’re capable of competing in the Championship.
“Football at this level is really tough, because you are up against good sides on a regular basis, but I honestly don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest we could still be up there come the end of the season.”
Smithies has been linked with all manner of moves since first making his name at the Under 17 World Cup in South Korea back in 2007.
But a couple of months ago, the former Colne Valley High School pupil and Westend junior player was happy to sign a new contract through to 2015, with Town having the option of extending it by another year.
“As I’ve said, good things are being done behind the scenes here and the players feel it,” he added.
“We are all enjoying this season, and the fans have been behind us, which makes it so much easier, especially in the periods when we haven’t been winning games.
“I do have ambitions, but I can’t see why I can’t achieve them here at the club I’ve always supported. The chairman is massive in this. As long as he’s giving us his backing, I can see us getting to the Premier League at some stage.
“When I first got into the side (Smithies made his debut from the bench after the dismissal of Matt Glennon in the 4-1 defeat down at Southend in December 2007) and we weren’t even making the play-offs, it was a bit harder to see into the future.
“But now it feels like we are going places. I’s not just words – we are proving it on the pitch.”
There’s no doubt Smithies’ injury nightmare has given him a fresh perspective on life and football, and he admitted: “There were some tough times.
“Certain days, it was a grind just getting into the club, knowing you couldn’t join in with the group. It made my appreciate what a great career football is and I feel like I’ve turned a corner.
“The Wembley win really gave me impetus. I wanted to get into the team this season, play well and stay in it.
“I know I’m far from the finished article, and I work as hard as ever in training and take as much advice as I can from Paul Crichton, (academy keeper coach) Nick Colgan and (teammate) Ian Bennett. I’m really enjoying myself, and at the moment, I can’t ask for much more.
“We’ve taken seven points from the last nine, which got us back on track after the defeats at Peterborough and Millwall, and getting that clean sheet at Barnsley was great, although the outfield players should take the credit.
“When it gets late on and they have two big front men, they will lump it forward and hope for the best, but we were resilient and strong at the back, and for me, the second half was pretty quiet, which was pleasing!
“If the team are winning and I’m playing, I’m going to be the happiest man at the club.”