The backline of Dundee United and its defensive stoutness has rightly come in for praise this season – but the recent attacking verve of right-back Liam Smith is also catching the eye.
With the 24-year-old on the right and fellow-full-back Jamie Robson on the left, Micky Mellon’s Terrors have used the flanks to good effect when lining up in a traditional 4-4-2 or an alternating 5-3-2/3-5-2 formation.
They have favoured the latter in their recent run of results, which has seen them succumb only to champions Celtic in the six games since that Gers loss.
Particularly down former Ayr United and Hearts defender Smith’s side have the Tannadice team looked most dangerous.
Smith pushes United forward against Saints and Dons
That was never clearer than in Tuesday’s 2-2 home draw with St Johnstone as 45.4% of United’s attacks came down the right-hand side.
Of the back five, wing-back Smith was by far the most advanced, playing almost as an extra midfielder for large swathes of the contest, making three crosses from open play and winning four fouls for his side.
At the other end of the park, too, the Fifer was important.
Smith – who won a game-high 87.5% of his duels – and Robson often acted as an outlet ball, with the right-back registering 63 touches.
In the previous match at Aberdeen, Smith’s defensive aptitude was on display as he made four interceptions to win back control of the ball.
The former St Mirren man also peppered the Dons box with crosses, firing in four from open play in the Pittodrie stalemate as he pushed high up the park once more.
Attacking prowess a big part of right-back’s game
This isn’t something new. Against the Gers, Kilmarnock and Motherwell, Smith bombed forward with real purpose.
Besides his aforementioned goal against the Premiership leaders, Smith was United’s main attacking threat.
He fired in two shots and created a chance for his side as 45.2% of their attacks came from the right.
In defence, he won the ball back a joint game-high eight times, giving the Tangerines the platform to push on.
Against Killie, once more, most of United’s forward play was coming down the right flank with Smith and Paul McMullan the most-used combination, finding each other 12 times in the match.
It was the same story when Motherwell came calling at Tannadice, with almost half of the home side’s attacks running through Smith and McMullan – the former picking out the latter 15 times.
The right-back created a chance for the Terrors and made a match-best 38 passes in the opposition half.
In front of his own goal, Smith was crucial, too, winning 66.7% of his total duels and 83.3% of duels in the air to lead his side in those categories.
Striking up a partnership with running mate Shanks
The only thing you feel is missing from Smith’s game at the moment is striking up that old Ayr partnership with Lawrence Shankland, one that was so effective for United as they won the Championship last season.
Smith picked out the Terrors’ dangerman six times against Motherwell and three when St Johnstone came to town.
Lifting those levels a little could see the duo become a deadly combination once more when United head for Hamilton tomorrow.