Paul Smyth has been a breath of fresh air for QPR, says boss Holloway
Former Linfield favourite Paul Smyth was the toast of Queen's Park Rangers on Monday after making a dream debut for the Championship side.
The 20-year-old, a summer signing from the Blues, hit the winner in a 2-1 triumph at home to Cardiff City and boss Ian Holloway admitted: "It was probably one of the biggest risks I've ever taken as a manager."
But Holloway's faith was rewarded as the striker's deflected 72nd-minute strike sealed the victory and the Northern Ireland Under-21 international received a standing ovation as he walked off the pitch five minutes later.
The congratulatory messages flooded in and the west Belfast man responded on Twitter: "Want to thank everyone for all the messages, really appreciate them all! Just can't get round to reply to all of them! Want to thank the fans for all their support today! Unreal atmosphere! Also over the moon to make my QPR debut and also to score was the best feeling ever!"
Holloway admitted selecting Smyth was a huge gamble which could have "gone horribly wrong", but he added: "He was a breath of fresh air. He has been since he arrived here."
With 18 minutes remaining he skipped past defender Bruno Ecuele Manga and fired home with the help of a slight deflection off Sol Bamba.
Smyth was brought in after Rangers’ run of one win in 10 matches with Northern Ireland international Conor Washington and Idrissa Sylla failing to sparkle.
Holloway said: “If you keep doing what you’re doing and people are missing chances then someone else deserves a chance to have a go.
“It could have gone horribly wrong, but it didn’t. I thought their centre-backs might have problems with him, it was just about how he was going to handle it. He handled it brilliantly, caused them all sorts of problems and I’m delighted he scored.
“It was a decision to give someone else a chance to play. Sometimes you have to do that. He’s done us the world of good.
“Sometimes you need that bit of freshness. We are reshaping the tree of QPR.
“He deserved his chance and he took it. He got a bit of luck with the deflection but his overall performance deserved that luck.
“The balance was right with him and big Smithy — we needed legs around him. It paid off big time for us today.”
The Northern Ireland Football Writers’ Young player of the Year for the 2016/17 season signed a two-year contract with QPR at the end of August.
Former team-mates and supporters hailed Smyth’s impact yesterday including Linfield chairman Roy McGivern who said: “I’m delighted for Paul and not surprised because I could see his potential. It was great debut and hopefully he can nail down a regular place in the team.
“I was over visiting him a month ago and he was a little frustrated after not featuring for the first team but Les Ferdinand said he was looking fantastic in training and hopefully he can keep improving.
“There could be an opportunity for him to become a senior international and we’d love to see that because watching players fulfil their potential is what football is all about. I know the Under-21 boss Ian Baraclough rates him very highly and it’s a real thrill for us to see a lad that has come through our academy, signing for us while in his school uniform, to now scoring for Queens Park Rangers.
“I know it can be difficult for our players to prosper in England or Scotland but I was confident Paul would settle in well and he is enjoying his life in London.
“He is flourishing in their full-time environment and we are missing him at Linfield because, as everyone knows, it can be difficult to replace that quality.”