MICHAEL Smith was feeling a little self-conscious.
The striker had just scored his 100th career goal and now the cameras and microphones were trained on him as he discussed his achievement after Rotherham United’s 2-0 win at Bristol City.
Smith isn’t one to seek out the limelight but it wasn’t the attention of the media that was bothering him.
It was his hair.
The 29-year-old had emerged from the players’ tunnel and wandered down the Ashton Gate touchline to the interview zone running a hand through his longer-than-usual blond locks.
“This is a complete Covid haircut,” he said. “I have got my appointment booked in. I did that as soon as the announcement about the coming-out-of-lockdown phases was made.
“April 12 or something. My missus had a go at cutting it. We looked at YouTube videos and I bought some clippers off Amazon. That didn’t go so well.”
Smith’s 100th goal — in his 390th appearance — had come in the first half of the Championship clash as he lofted a well-timed header over and beyond Robins keeper Dan Bentley.
Typically, he had no idea about the figure and was far more bothered about the three points that had given the Millers survival prospects a huge lift.
“Really?” he said when I told him. “Thanks for that. I don’t really keep track, to be honest. I had no idea.
“Reaching a landmark is nice, obviously, but it would have meant nothing without the three points
“Winning is huge. We have to go into every match trying to get the win because we know the teams around us will pick up points as well.”
The header had been Smith’s 35th goal in Rotherham colours and his ninth of this campaign, beating the eight of his previous season in the second tier two years ago.
The centre-forward, a free transfer from Bury in January 2018, has 12 games left to reach double figures, help keep the Millers up and cement his status as one of boss Paul Warne’s best-ever signings.
“I’ve loved my football since I’ve come here,” the Geordie said. “The manager and the coaching staff — Richie, Hammy, everyone — have been spot on with us. The style we play suits my game down to a tee.
“I should be on ten. There was the penalty miss the other day against Watford. I try to help the team as much as I can with goals.”
Assistant manager Richie Barker believes a “14 or 15” tally is possible and Smith laughed: “Richie is very harsh on me! He’s right, though, and it’s constructive criticism that he gives.
“I want to get as many goals as I can. I’m a striker. When it comes to goals, I’m selfish. I want to score. In turn, it helps the team if I’m scoring.”
The third-bottom Millers are midway through the international break before returning for a hectic schedule of 12 games in 37 days that will decide their fate.
For Smith, April 2 and the first match back, at Millwall, can’t come soon enough
“I’m looking forward to the run-in being so busy,” he said. “I’d rather be playing games and preparing for games than training. I enjoy the challenge of getting ready for a game. I enjoy all the preparation and the work that goes into it and then the excitement of the match itself.
“It’s just a shame the fans aren’t here to be part of it. Especially the home games, they would have really helped us. But I think we’ve got more than enough in that dressing room to stay up. We’ve given every team in the division a game. We’ve given ourselves a real chance of survival. We’re quietly confident.”
April 12 and a proper haircut can’t come soon enough either. The player shuddered at the thought of partner Hannah being allowed to get her hands on his tousled barnet for a second time.
“No chance,” he said. “I’m not letting her anywhere near it again.”
RICHIE Barker was in charge on the day Michael Smith reached the 100-goal milestone.
The assistant manager, a striker in his playing days and a member of the century club himself, said: “I’m really pleased for Smudge. He’s extremely hard-working and he deserves it.
“We are very demanding of him. He knows that I think he should be on at least a dozen goals now, and I don’t think there is any reason why he can’t end up with 14 or 15 this season.
“He’s come a long way in a short period of time. To come here on a free transfer from Bury and become a recognised Championship striker — who can hopefully get into double figures this season — is some achievement.”
Rotherham: 35 (144 appearances)
Bury: 2 (23 apps)
Northampton loan: 2 (14 apps)
Portsmouth: 6 (21 apps)
Portsmouth loan: 4 (16 apps)
Barnsley loan: 0 (13 apps)
Swindon: 26 (72 apps)
Wimbledon loan: 10 (25 apps)
Colchester loan: 2 (8 apps)
Newport loan: 4 (9 apps)
Accrington loan: 3 (6 apps)
Charlton: 0 (2 apps)
Darlington: 6 (37 apps)
2017/18, League One: 6 (22 apps)
2018/19, Championship: 8 (46 apps)
2019/20, League One: 12 (41 apps)
2020/21, Championship: 9 (34 apps) *
* 12 games still to play