RICHIE SMALLWOOD wants to follow in the footsteps of Grant Leadbitter after describing how the former Sunderland man has led by example in the Middlesbrough dressing room.

Smallwood was crowned young player of the year by the Middlesbrough Disabled Supporters Association earlier this week after becoming an integral member of Tony Mowbray’s squad.

The 22-year-old has not established himself as one of the first names on the manager’s teamsheet just yet, but has made undeniable progress in the last 18 months.

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Leadbitter recently lavished praise on the young midfielder’s work ethic and determination on the training ground to improve, something which the ex-Black Cat has built his career on.

Smallwood said: “Grant (Leadbitter) has been one of the best players this season and is in my position so I just keep learning from him. He’s played in the Premier League and you see him every day in training and he’s a class midfielder.

I’m only young so I’ll keep learning from him.”

Smallwood scored the third league goal of his career on December 29 in Middlesbrough’s 4-2 win over Blackpool at the Riverside. He is hoping to be back in the team for Saturday’s FA Cup fourth round tie with League Two’s Aldershot.

His last appearance was in the previous round’s success over Hastings United and there has been disappointment in the two league games since, losing to Watford and Leicester City.

Sealing a return to the Premier League remains the priority, but Smallwood is keen to ensure Middlesbrough keep ticking along nicely in the FA Cup – and not let his hometown down.

“You want to play all the games, whether in the league or the cup,” said the Dormanstown- born midfielder.

“Hopefully my name will be on the teamsheet and I can go out there and help us get a result.

“They’re all tough games, we saw that against Hastings United. They’ll want to do really well and make a name for themselves so we have to be on the ball. Hopefully we will be on Saturday.

“Playing for the first team is what I’ve worked for all my life coming through the ranks. When you walk out there and your family are in the stand and the fans are cheering you on, you just want to give it your all. If you keep working hard it will eventually come good for you.”

Middlesbrough goalkeeper Jason Steele was awarded the main player of the year at Monday night’s MDSA awards night.

West Ham manager Sam Allardyce, meanwhile, has confirmed he is on the lookout for a new left-back.

The Hammers boss is weighing up whether to make an official offer for Boro’s George Friend, who is among a number of players being short-listed by Allardyce.

And the former Newcastle manager said: “It’s been hugely frustrating that we’ve been trying for the whole of the window to bring in a defender but not been able to clinch a deal yet.

“I think at this stage of the window, if clubs are going to release a player, they would let him go on a permanent basis, not on a short-term loan basis.

“I think it will probably change as the window gets nearer to closing.

“Hopefully we’ll be more successful in our [efforts] to get a defender in at that stage.”