After consecutive years blighted by injury, Kelly Smith started 2013 with some optimism after a rare full close season. On Saturday, though, she made only her second club appearance of the year.
It had begun so well for the England forward when she scored early in Arsenal LFC's first match of 2013, a UEFA Women's Champions League quarter-final against ASD Torres CF. However, on 35 minutes she limped off with a shin injury that, other than two brief substitute cameos in England's ill-fated UEFA Women's EURO 2013 campaign in July, kept Smith out until she came off the bench late in Arsenal's 3-0 round of 16 first-leg defeat of Glasgow City LFC on Saturday.
"The game was very comfortable for the majority part, so it was decided beforehand that if it was comfortable I'd probably get the last ten or 15 minutes," Smith said, having finally resumed full training last week. "I was blowing a little bit – I need a new pair of lungs – but it was my first week back training and I was pleased. There was no problem with the Achilles, and it was good to be back with the girls and among it because it is a bit lonely out of it."
Smith, set to be on the bench again in Wednesday's away second leg, nearly marked her comeback with a long-range goal. "I just thought I'd hit it with my right foot and the goalkeeper had to tip it onto the bar," said the attacker, who turned 35 a fortnight ago. "It would have been nice for a goal on my comeback but it was not to be."
Manager Shelley Kerr, who appointed Smith to her first senior coaching role as the Scot's assistant, was fielding her star player for only the second time since her arrival nine months ago. "She just gives everyone such a lift," Kerr said. "What people tend to forget is we've had her missing almost the whole season, and just to see her out on the pitch was magnificent. You could see from her first couple of touches what a class act she is and she was a wee bit unfortunate not to get a goal."
Talking about her coaching position – aiding Arsenal to two domestic cups even as they lost their league title – Smith said: "It's a different role really. I've taken a bit more of a back seat from playing, doing my rehab, but it's been good to learn from Shelley, what she's looking for from the girls and why she's picking certain players, the tactics we are playing. It is a different angle I am looking from now, so that's the next step for me when I do hang up my boots."
She does not plan to do that yet, with Smith also remaining available to whoever succeeds Hope Powell as England manager. "I still feel good after coming back from my injury. I've worked hard again, trying to get back, and I've managed to do it before the season's out. So I'm going to work hard still in the off-season and try and come back stronger. I'll see how I feel. If I get another long-term injury I'll have to address it as I can't keep doing it at 35 years old."
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