When Huddersfield took the lead against MK Dons in the 32nd minute of their playoff clash, there was no need to check the name of the scorer. Jordan Rhodes guided his header from a Lee Novak cross past Dons’ keeper David Martin into the far corner to bag his 39th goal of the season.
That’s right. 39. It’s been an incredible season for Rhodes who has shot from near obscurity to hot property in the space of a season. He was named the League One Player of the Year after finishing with 35 goals in the regular year. This figure surpassed Hudderfield’s all-time goalscoring record in a season, while he also bagged six hat-tricks throughout the year, including becoming the first Terriers players to score back-to-back trebles during games against Exeter and Preston in October. After just two and a half years at the club, he is already eight highest on the scoring charts, while he is the joint top scorer for the Scottish U21 team despite making just six appearances. Any more for any more? Well, he made his full international debut against Cyprus in November.
These feats are astonishing, especially considering he achieved them all in one season, but the 22-year-old needs to keep his feet planted firmly on the ground. His goal against MK Dons may have given Huddersfield a significant advantage in the playoffs, but there is still plenty of work to be done. Rhodes himself knows what defeat tastes like at this stage, indeed he featured in the sides that lost to Millwall in the semi-finals in 2010 and more agonisingly, to Peterboroughin the final in 2011. Rhodes only came off the bench during that defeat in the 81st minute, so he will hope to have the chance to make up for his limited contribution last time around.
It’s no coincidence that Huddersfield have been challenging for League One promotion since Rhodes’s arrival. It came as a surprise to plenty of Ipswich fans that the club let Rhodes go, indeed he had shown plenty of potential since they plucked him from Barnsley back in 2005 for a mere £5,000. Loan spells at Rochdale and Brentford highlighted the forward’s ability to find the back of the net and this prompted Lee Clark to take a punt and bring Rhodes up north for an undisclosed fee. His first season yielded a return of 23 goals in all competitions, though the highlight was undoubtedly the hat-trick of headers he bagged in eight minutes against Exeter that beat Dixie Dean’s eight decade old record. Unlucky to lose out to Millwall that season, Huddersfield were desperate to emulate local rivals Leeds United who had gained promotion from League One and under Clark, they looked to be a decent bet for promotion, especially given the strength of the squad assembled at the Galpharm Stadium.
Consistent form saw the Terriers march into the playoffs again, but they suffered that heartbreaking 3-0 defeat at the hands of Darren Ferguson’s Peterborough. For Rhodes himself, the season didn’t go quite according to plan despite finishing the year as the club’s top scorer again with 22 goals. He ended the season out of the side and with Huddersfield still stuck in League One, Rhodes needed to improve in 2011/12.
Boy, how he has managed that. Rhodes sent Twitter into overdrive by netting four times in a 4-4 draw with Sheffield Wednesday in December, though after his five goal salvo in the 6-0 win over Wycombe, you’d have thought the striker had solved world poverty given the adulation coming his way. Rhodes hasn’t been quite as prolific since Simon Grayson took charge following Lee Clark’s surprising sacking, but all players need time to adapt to new tactics and new ideas.
Despite Huddersfield 43-game unbeaten run under Clark, the Huddersfield board decided to end his tenure in charge with the Terriers only occupying a playoff position. Although the decision to appoint Grayson instead hasn’t exactly backfired, the side still only occupy a playoff position, failing to achieve what the board wanted in kicking on for automatic promotion. However, their aggregate victory over MK Dons now leaves them facing Yorkshire rivals Sheffield United for a place in the Championship.
Victory in the playoffs could be crucial in deciding Rhodes’s own personal future. He is tasked with the mission of firing Huddersfield into the Championship, but many pundits expect the striker to be at pastures new anyway next year. Chief executive Nigel Clibbens told BBC Radio Leeds: “We are in a great position financially. We can sell players when we want to and it’s best for the club.” This may be the case if Huddersfield get promoted, but any failure would surely see Rhodes ask for the opportunity to try his hand at a higher level. He may only be 22, but he has attracted significant interest not just from the Championship, but the Premiership as well. A figure of £5 million seems rather steep for one so unproven in the higher divisions, but goals are an expensive commodity in football these days. And goals are something Rhodes specialises in.