He shouldn’t happen to teams like Huddersfield, Jordan Rhodes.
The form he found himself in was the stuff that young boys tell their children about when they grow to be fathers, and delight in their own fathers smiling down remembering.
Huddersfield isn’t a town that lends itself to that kind of dreaming; it is a stark mill town surrounded by hills. It is cold, it is damp, it is imposing. To have a blonde wunderkind producing that kind of run, in a team producing that kind of football is out of keeping.
In front of a bloody-minded community, the Huddersfield Town that Lee Clark sent out were fun. They were ultimately unsuccessful, it took a few more years before David Wagner found that magic combination of ability and steel and honed it, but under Clark there was joy.
When Jordan Rhodes was on form, there was seldom anything but.
FLASHES OF ABILITY
There had been warnings of his ability, flashes; his time with Ipswich and with Brentford had highlighted that the lad had an eye for goal. He’d hit the ground running, too. Five goals in his first three games saw to that. 2009/10 ended in disappointment, though.
Rhodes was withdrawn after an hour with Town 1-0 down at Millwall in the second leg of the playoff semi-final. For some, the die was cast then. Clark’s mindset changed.
More disappointment was to come. Despite another 22 goals the following campaign, Rhodes was left on the bench of the 2011 Playoff Final against Peterborough. He came on with nine minutes remaining, and the Terriers 2-0 down.
That the Posh were the better side was inarguable. Quite why Clark led with Benik Afobe, with just five goals to his name, is a different matter entirely.
There had been purple patches during those two campaigns, too. Spells of five or six games when Rhodes would score five, six, seven goals. At League One level he was a predator like no other.
TWO BLANKS TO OPEN
So when the next, 2011/12 campaign began with two blanks, there were no worries. Sure enough, Rhodes hit form, four goals in the two games after that. Another brief drought followed but was shattered in emphatic style.
If you don’t remember Huddersfield at this point, you can be forgiven. Although they were winning a lot of games in League One, media interest doesn’t really drop to that level. The early season focus is always on the higher divisions.
Rhodes would always play better with another striker. He was reliant on space, and the ball being played into him, and was able to turn it goalwards with either foot and his head – indeed, he scored the fastest headed hat-trick in Football League history the previous season.
There was always width in those sides. Gary Roberts, Danny Ward and Anthony Pilkington all did shifts on the wing. Jack Hunt was a marauding full-back. Everything revolved around getting chances, getting the ball in the box for Rhodes.
Growing up, his idols were Henrik Larsson and Ally McCoist and there is certainly a touch of both of those players about Rhodes when he is at his best. He has, or he had, that same unerring ability to find both space and the target, when receiving the ball.
Most often, his foil was the hard-running Lee Novak. He had an eye for goal himself, but was intelligent enough as a player to ensure that Rhodes was the main goalscorer. When Novak was unavailable, Clark would usually turn to Alan Lee.
Lee retains something of a cult following at Huddersfield, though his role there erred somewhere between battering ram and wrecking ball. Not afraid to swing elbows, arms, or his head, the veteran would create space in a different way to Novak, but was still equally valuable for Rhodes.
These two were used alongside Rhodes in the early part of that 2011/12 season, while he struggled to find his best. For most players, a run of nine goals in four games could be a career-high, let alone a season-high. For Rhodes at Huddersfield, it was little more than a return to form.
As October ticked around, he grabbed a brace at Griffin Park in a 4-0 win at Brentford, followed up with back-to-back hat-tricks, one in another 4-0 away win, at Exeter, and the other in a 3-1 home victory over Preston. That his late goal against Scunthorpe was cancelled out was the only dampener.
Having made some waves north of the border with eight goals in eight Under 21 games for Scotland, this run was good enough to earn Rhodes a call-up to the full Scottish side; though three minutes in Larnaca against Cyprus wasn’t quite enough for a goal.
He returned with a brace against Notts County before the 2-0 defeat at Charlton that saw the end of Lee Clark’s side’s 43-match unbeaten run. By that stage, Jon Parkin had been brought in alongside Rhodes, and despite his physical presence, lacked something that made things click.
THAT TRIP TO HILLSBOROUGH
For the trip to Sheffield Wednesday on December 17, Novak was back, and the fans were hoping for the side to bounce back, despite knowing that Hillsborough was a difficult place to score, let alone win.
Novak’s influence was apparent early, firing a cross into Rhodes that was headed just over, while Tommy Miller produced another that went wide. The striker was finding his range, and quickly turned the next cross, from Novak again, into a goal.
Almost immediately, Town were on the front foot again, a slick move ending with Gary Roberts crossing for Rhodes to head home again for 2-0.
The Owls pulled one back before the break and gradually turned the screw in the second half. With quarter of an hour to go, Chris O’Grady put them into a seemingly unassailable 4-2 lead. That spiked the visitors into action again, Roberts playing in Rhodes to complete his hat-trick.
He made it four in the 97th minute, as a desperate through-ball from Peter Clarke found its way to Rhodes, who rifled home to complete a memorable 4-4 draw.
“When you’ve got someone in the form of our striker at this moment in time,” purred Clark after the dramatic conclusion, “if you give him the service nine times out of 10 it will end up at the back of the net, and that was the case.”
THE BEAT GOES ON
Novak retained his place in the side for the visit of Chesterfield on 27th December, a bitter cold game with only one moment that really warmed the spirits. That came after 34 minutes, Novak nudged the ball low towards Rhodes on the edge of the six-yard box.
He stepped towards the ball and out of the path of the defender, and directed the ball past Tommy Lee with his heel. It was a moment of supreme skill to claim his 20th goal of the season, clearly in supreme form.
Rhodes was back in business a few days later, firing in a neat equaliser from the edge of the box as Clark’s side struggled to break down a Carlisle side who had nicked an early lead. He then made it seven goals in four games after heading home a rebound from a Gary Roberts shot at Meadow Lane.
Little did we know he was just getting started.
A MAGICAL FRIDAY NIGHT
Lee Clark’s Huddersfield side had a good record at Adams Park, Wycombe. Back in 2009, they’d played a televised home game against the Chairboys. That ended in a 6-0 victory. Rhodes had failed to find the target, though he did register an assist.
They’d played twice more since then, the Terriers winning both. Rhodes had got one goal, in a 2-1 away win in 2010. Along with a strike in a 3-3 draw at Griffin Park, they were his only goals against Wycombe to date.
The television cameras were present again that Friday evening, looking for a performance from an in-form striker in an in-form team. As it was, Huddersfield took their early lead through an Oscar Gobern header.
However, it did not take long for Rhodes to shine. Jack Hunt tore down the right side and fizzed a cross into the six-yard box. Rhodes was quick enough to get ahead of the defender, agile enough to slide onto the ball, and skilful enough to direct it into the roof of the net. 2-0.
Five minutes later, a through ball found Rhodes shoulder to shoulder with Grant Basey 30 yards or so from goal. Although never looking physically imposing, he muscled his way into the box. From there, the result was inevitable. The ball was slotted low past Nikki Bull into the goal.
Bull did save a Rhodes effort early in the second half, after seeing the striker spring between two of his defenders. The goalkeeper was only able to deflect the ball back into Rhodes’ path, and he rolled it almost apologetically into the unguarded net to complete his hat-trick.
Another deflection brought Rhodes his fourth. Danny Ward was afforded some space deep, and his shot from distance was blocked by Bull only to provide a simple 25th goal of the campaign for the former Brentford loanee. By this stage, it was almost as impressive that a fan in the Huddersfield stand still had some ticker-tape to throw than the ever-increasing scoreline.
There was no sign of tumbling paper after Rhodes’ fifth, almost a mirror image of his first; a cross from the left that he converted into the net after getting in front of the defence in the six-yard box.
The Sky Sports team were in no doubt how impressive Rhodes’ performance had been. Talk of a transfer had been in the air before the match, and that did nothing to dispel it.
12 goals in 5 games was an astonishing return, and although he doused the flames by suggesting they might be there watching anyone, it was impossible that any of the eight watching Premier League scouts had been impressed by anyone by Rhodes.
“Jordan Rhodes, he isn’t for sale”, sang the Town fans as the striker was interviewed after the game, but it was going to be a long January. Names such as Manchester United were on people’s lips, but Rhodes dismissed everything as speculation in order to focus on his training.
NOT ALL SMOOTH SAILING
With already 25 goals to his name in January, he continued to fire as the season went on. It was not all smooth sailing, though.
Clark was relieved of his duties after a home defeat to Sheffield United. Too many games had been drawn, and too many playoffs lost. This departure prompted a run of nine goals in as many games for Rhodes, culminating in a hat-trick at Leyton Orient.
He had scored 38 goals as the season came to a close, before the now traditional Huddersfield Town playoff campaign. This time, with goals in both legs against MK Dons, Rhodes guided Simon Grayson’s side to Wembley.
During the final, neither side looked likely to find the target in what was a turgid affair that ended goalless after 90 minutes and promised little in extra time. Even during the penalty shoot-out goals were hard to come by, with only Neil Collins scoring out of the first six takers.
Perhaps surprisingly, Rhodes took Huddersfield’s sixth penalty. Less surprisingly, he found the net easily to put his side 3-2 up. Alan Quinn responded in kind, and the kicks started to be converted more regularly; Harry Maguire, Jack Hunt, Matt Hill.
With the score at 7-7, the goalkeepers stepped up. Alex Smithies blasted the ball past Steve Simonsen to give Huddersfield the advantage, then took his mark. Simonsen rifled his shot hard and high, over the frame of the goal, and Huddersfield were promoted to the Championship.
Rhodes did stay with the Terriers over the summer, scoring twice in the first two games of the new season. However, an £8 million bid from Blackburn Rovers saw him cross the Pennines as the transfer window drew to a close.
He scored goals for Rovers, of course; a run of eight in seven league games over the Christmas period the best return of his first year, and some other flurries in the next few campaigns, but he was never the same again.
Huddersfield Town have been to the Premier League and back since the departure of Jordan Rhodes, won games on the big stage against the best teams. Their fans have memories of victories over Manchester United, survival at Stamford Bridge and a draw at the Etihad Stadium.
Yet there will always be a special place in Huddersfield Town history for Jordan Rhodes, who enjoyed the most purple of purple patches in the blue and white stripes and, for a few weeks at least, could not miss.