AS Luke Murphy’s shot squirmed out of Brighton goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak’s grasp and into the net a week ago, it was the perfect end to an afternoon that had brought the feelgood factor back to Elland Road.
The day had begun with the final 1,000 or so home tickets being snapped up by fans desperate to see the opening game of the season. Prices being pegged at Category C undoubtedly helped and the upshot was the players taking to the field ahead of kick-off amid an atmosphere not seen for some time in LS11.
That, though, was nothing compared to the finale with Brian McDermott, no stranger to raucous crowds in his time, describing the scenes that followed Murphy netting the winner as both “incredible” and “phenomenal”.
Much of the focus as Elland Road celebrated was, understandably, on the goalscorer but another new signing had more than played his part.
Matt Smith, McDermott’s first signing as United manager when the 6ft 6in striker joined from Oldham Athletic, had provided the all-important knockdown that Murphy had seized upon before poking the ball past Kuszczak.
The 24-year-old’s face at the final whistle betrayed his elation at how his debut had gone. Smith might not have scored the goal every new signing craves but he got the next best thing by setting up the winner.
Considering his height, the manner of Smith’s assist was perhaps not a surprise.
However, what may surprise United fans is just how their new signing has continued to fine-tune his game since joining from Oldham in June.
“My Dad provided most of my coaching because I never joined an Academy,” Smith, who only came into the Football League at 22 after completing an International Business degree at Manchester University, told the Yorkshire Post.
“Dad was a striker (with Birmingham City and Hearts) as well so he has always been there for me as a coach and a mentor. This is a unique job so to have someone like Dad helping me has been great.
“I never had any Academy coaching or anything like that. It was instead always one-on-one with my Dad, doing crossing and finishing. We went down the local park, a place called Ab Lench in the Worcestershire countryside. It was about a quarter-of-an-hour away from our house.
“They had the nets, which was the big thing. I was still at University when we’d go down there, at 20 or 21. I even went a couple of times this summer, squeezing in two sessions.
“The only thing is Dad’s crossing is lacking in a bit of power these days. No, seriously, Dad is brilliant. He is my biggest critic and comes to every game with Mum.”
Smith’s parents have, indeed, been there all through their son’s unusual route to the Championship. After being released by Cheltenham at 18, he opted for University.
In his first year in Manchester, he played amateur football but it very much came second-best to his studies and life as a student.
Soon, though, his performances were attracting interest from local non-League clubs and during Matt’s four years in Manchester he gradually moved up the ladder via spells with New Mills in the North West Counties Premier League, Redditch, Droylsden and then, finally, Solihull Moors.
Twenty-three goals in 27 appearances for Solihull in the 2010-11 Conference North season alerted a host of clubs but Oldham won the race for Smith’s signature.
That final step-up proved a tough one but, as Liverpool discovered when being knocked out of the FA Cup last January by his two goals, Smith bridged the gap. He is the first to admit, though, that it was not easy.
“The transition at Oldham was more to do with training full-time,” he said. “I’d never done that before so it was a big change physically. Now, I am used to it as this is my third season as a professional footballer. I know a lot more about what is required.
“I found it tough physically at first at Oldham and then, later, it was the mental pressures that I had to deal with. Being a full-time footballer is what you are paid to do and in the beginning I would go sky-high with the highs and then really low when things didn’t work so well.
“You can’t do that as a professional.”
Four goals in three games against Liverpool and Everton in last season’s FA Cup shows Smith did, indeed, find his feet and now he is hoping to help Leeds maintain their encouraging start.
Smith, whose full debut came in the midweek Capital One Cup win over Chesterfield, said: “I am still learning because I am still very new to professional football. But I do feel to be an asset.
“There aren’t too many 6ft 6in strikers out there, we are something of a dying breed. Hopefully, I can use my qualities to help the team.”