ALEX SMITHIES has set his sights on a third clean sheet in four matches as Town prepare for another “massive” Championship clash at home to Birmingham City tomorrow.
Town ended a run of 10 games without a win when they beat Charlton 1-0 in last Saturday’s FA Cup third-round tie in South London.
Now they aim to build on a much-improved display when they go head to head with former manager Lee Clark, making his first return to the John Smith’s Stadium.
Smithies shut out City when Simon Grayson’s men won 1-0 at St Andrew’s back in October, and kept a clean sheet in the last home game against Sheffield Wednesday.
But it’s more than two months since Town last claimed a three-point haul – in the derby at Barnsley in November – and the keeper says that has to change as soon as possible.
“This division is harsh and if you’re not at it for a few weeks then it will punish you and you’ll drop down the league,” said Smithies, whose side are 17th, having been in the play-off zone.
“But it is close and a couple of wins can send you right back up, although ultimately, our first target will be to stay in the league.
“Once we’ve got to that safety mark then we can kick on, but staying in the Championship is our first target. We’re newly promoted, and if we manage that, we will have done our job.”
Town are set to hand a debut in midfield to new Leicester loan signing Neil Danns, a former Birmingham player.
And Smithies added: “Every game is huge for us, and we have shown how difficult it can be if you’re not at it day in, day out.
“We’re going to use the win at Charlton to give us the impetus to kick on in the league and pick up a few more victories.”
Victory at The Valley clinched a home FA Cup fourth-round tie against Championship rivals Leicester a fortnight tomorrow, January 26.
Town also have a league game at Watford a week tomorrow before they try to gain revenge for their 6-1 New Year’s Day drubbing at Leicester.
“That was a real kick up the backside,” reflected Smithies, who was forced off by a dead leg at half-time at the King Power Stadium.
“We thought we had beaten Blackpool at home on Boxing Day, being 1-0 up before they equalised in stoppage time, and had we won, it could have set us on a roll.
“We held our hands up after Leicester – everything about that game was just out of order and not on, so we had a team meeting and talked things through.
“Getting a win and a clean sheet at Charlton was a great way to bounce back, but it is only a start and we have to carry on that form in the league.
“We badly needed a win, whichever way it came. We’ll take it and the positivity it brings going into the Birmingham game.”