Former Saint on target for the top

By Adrian Back FORMER St Albans City striker Craig Mackail-Smith is attracting interest from the Premier League after a blistering start in League One this season. The prolific striker, who has found the net 16 times during the current campaign, began hi

By Adrian Back

FORMER St Albans City striker Craig Mackail-Smith is attracting interest from the Premier League after a blistering start in League One this season.

The prolific striker, who has found the net 16 times during the current campaign, began his career at Clarence Park and has taken time to pay tribute to St Albans City for giving him his breakthrough into football: "I started off by playing for the Sunday team and the Under 15s before going to a trial and getting in. I was playing for the first team at only 15 or 16 which was a massive achievement."

Mackail-Smith possesses great natural pace and the then City management duo of Gary Roberts and Steve Cook realised his potential, handing him a debut at the age of just 16. However there was a change to the management team and Mackail-Smith found himself warming the bench. The hitman eventually left the club in search of first-team football, a decision that proved to be the right one for the striker.

"It came to the end of the season and the boss came to me and said you can stay and probably sit on the bench or leave. Looking back, it was probably a good decision."

Since his days as a young prospect at City, Mackail-Smith has blazed his way through the divisions and become one of the most talked about talents in League One, yet this has not meant that he has forgotten his roots at the Saints.

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The striker said: "I was a youth team player and the club was just down the road. My Nan and Grandad live in St Albans so I always look out for their results and hopefully they can make that step up to the Conference. If it wasn't for St Albans giving me the opportunity to play at such a young age then I might not be where I am today."

After coming through the youth setup at St Albans, he went on to make nearly 50 appearances netting two goals. Often used as a substitute due to his tender years he was always on the brink of first-team football but never made the transition to first choice.

Mackail-Smith moved on to Arlesey Town and it was here that he and team mate Shane Blackett were noticed by Dagenham & Redbridge boss John Still.

Dagenham snapped the pair up and Mackail-Smith was soon a first-team regular in a side that was pushing for promotion to the Football League. Still was putting together a strong team that looked as though they had all the ingredients to push on with Craig leading the front line.

Talking about his time at Dagenham he said: "They had some very good experienced players and were coming off the back of a couple of seasons where they had fantastic FA Cup runs. It was a good time to be at the club. The manager brought in some fantastic players that were all young and hungry, plus mostly from non-league."

Scoring 38 goals in 106 appearances and helping the East Londoners to top the table by Christmas meant there was interest from league clubs and in particular Peterborough.

The Posh were scouring non-league football for the best talent around. Aaron McLean made the move from Grays and George Boyd joined from nearby Stevenage. Craig was snapped up for £125,000 and was joined at London Road by Blackett.

This raised questions about the young strikers ability and whether or not he was cut out to play League football but Mackail-Smith never had such doubts: "I believed in my ability and sometimes the opportunities you get in life don't come around twice, I would have liked to have followed it through with Dagenham but the opportunity may not have come around at the end of the season so I took it with both hands and made sure I got my head down and forced my way into the team."

Since his move on January 29, 2007 both Peterborough and Mackail-Smith have been grabbing the headlines. Mackail-Smith scored 19 goals last season to help the Posh claim automatic promotion and with it a chance to show his ability in League One against the likes of Leeds United and Leicester City.

Mackail-Smith has made the most of this opportunity by producing a number of eye-catching performances both with his goal exploits and his fantastic partnership with fellow striker Aaron Mclean.

"I'm finding League One, I wouldn't say easy but I'm comfortable with the football. I think you find the more leagues you go down its more hustle bustle, everyone's on top of you really quickly and you get shut down instantly. The higher you go you seem to get a lot more time on the ball which has really suited my game and I have always had a decent turn of pace which helps."

It is this form that has led to speculation about just what level Peterborough's top scorer can play at, with interest from the likes of Charlton and Cardiff in the Championship and even Premiership side West Bromwich Albion showing an interest in the former St Albans City player.

"My job is to score goals and I want to keep doing that, I'm enjoying my time with Peterborough and if I keep doing well and clubs are looking at me then I will have to look at my options, at the end of the day every footballer wants to play at the highest level possible. I just want to keep scoring goals for Peterborough as I am really enjoying my time here. They gave me the opportunity to play league football and I'm loving every minute of it so as long as I keep doing my job here, then what follows will follow."

Hopefully this success story will inspire the current City squad to new levels of achievement and prove that there is plenty of talent to be found in Non League football.