FEATURE: Poppies experience can only be a good thing for loanee Alistair
For any young professional at a Football League club, going out on loan into the world of non-League is, more often than not, part of the process.
You’ll often hear managers on both sides describe such loan deals as ‘good for all parties’.
And, while football bosses so often talk in cliches, on this occasion they’re usually right.
Football League clubs with high hopes for a young player need them to gain first-hand experience of adult football, the player himself needs to adjust to that step up from reserve or academy action to the real thing and, of course, the non-League club in question will have a prospect available to them.
Clubs like Kettering Town in the Vanarama National League North and others in this area use the loan market to add both quality and value to their squads.
Given Poppies manager Paul Cox’s close affinity to Mansfield Town, a club he led back into the Football League in 2013, it should be no surprise that he used his connections in Nottinghamshire to bolster the ranks at Latimer Park.
Jason Law was the first to make the move from Field Mill and he was followed, a couple of weeks ago, by 20-year-old midfielder Alistair Smith.
Both have first-team appearances at Mansfield and both have made their marks in Northamptonshire.
Law enjoyed a memorable debut in a Kettering shirt when, after coming on as a substitute, he scored a superb stoppage-time winner to give the Poppies a 2-1 success at Spennymoor Town last month.
And, just last week, the attacker’s loan spell was extended for a further month.
Smith made his bow as a second-half substitute in the 0-0 draw with Curzon Ashton earlier this month and then followed that with an impressive 90 minutes, alongside Law in the starting line-up in Kettering’s 3-0 victory over Brackley Town in the semi-finals of the NFA Hillier Senior Cup.
That then led to a full league debut as he helped the Poppies secure a 1-1 draw at Altrincham on Saturday
And Smith, who is no stranger to cutting his teeth in the non-League game while being on the professional books at Mansfield, believes his stay at Kettering will only serve him well in the future.
“I’ve enjoyed being out there and playing minutes, it’s been a while since I have done that,” the 20-year-old said.
“It’s a good changing-room and there is a good togetherness so it’s been quite easy to slot in and be part of the team.
“The gaffer (Cox) is great. Since I have come in he has welcomed me with open arms.
“Hopefully my performances will get me in the mix for more appearances in the league and I can help Kettering push on.
“I was at Loughborough Dynamo and had a good spell there for about six month and enjoyed my time and I was at Frickley Athletic as well.
“This is the first time I have played at this level so I am adjusting to it and hopefully it helps me in the long run.
“I think going out on loan has shown it works.
“Every time I have been out, I have come back with a lot more experience and a lot more knowhow of how to handle men’s football.
“It’s only positive coming out and playing at places because it makes me grow as a player and get better and better.”
Cox spoke highly of Law when he first arrived and did so again about Smith following his early efforts in his loan stint.
Mansfield academy manager Richard Cooper was on hand to watch both youngsters in that Hillier Cup clash with Brackley and was deep in conversation with Cox following the final whistle.
The Poppies boss said: “I was speaking to Richard Cooper because he came down and watched.
“We go back a long way me and Coops and we were just saying that we can’t wait for the boy (Smith) to get 100 per cent fit because I think he will be a tremendous asset to us during his stay here.
“You can see that, with his movement, touch and his ability to bring people into play, everything about his game looks excellent."