Jordan Rhodes' four goals at Hillsborough on Saturday will have been bittersweet for Huddersfield Town manager Lee Clark because it means his club are now certain to have their resolve tested this January. Goalscorers are the most prized players in football and while the experiences of Andy Carroll and Fernando Torres in the past year prove there are no guarantees, that will not stop clubs spending large sums on them.
Rhodes now has 17 goals in League One this season, bringing his tally to more than 50 in two-and-half seasons since Roy Keane decided he was not going to be part of his plans at Ipswich Town. Given Rhodes is only 21, and already a Scottish international, many a contending Championship club, and possibly some in the Premier League, will be wondering if he is the answer to their problems.
Similarly, goal-shy Wigan and QPR might ask if Southampton's Ricky Lambert, scorer of 96 league goals in the past three-and-a-half seasons, is the man for them.
Lower down, is Izale McLeod, who has managed to score 14 League Two goals in a struggling Barnet team, more than half his team's tally, the man to replace Rhodes if he was sold?
None of these players will come cheap. Lambert cost Southampton £1m-plus two years ago when being bought from Bristol Rovers while Huddersfield, having sold Anthony Pilkington and Lee Peltier in the summer, have no urgent need of funds. As an indication of the going rate, a year ago Millwall paid £550,000 for Josh McQuoid on the strength of 12 goals in 18 matches for Bournemouth in the opening months of the last campaign – he had, though, only scored once in 65 previous appearances and has subsequently managed one goal for Millwall.
McQuoid was only 22 last week and is still learning his trade as a striker – Bournemouth converted him from an attacking midfielder last season when shorn of strikers. He may yet justify his fee, but it underlines the difficulty managers can have in discerning who is a goalscorer, and who simply a player in a hot streak, or in a team creating lots of chances.
Consider, for example, the strikers who took Peterborough to two League One promotions in three years: Craig Mackail-Smith, Aaron McLean and George Boyd. Between them they scored 128 league goals in three seasons for Posh. This includes the 26 scored in the Championship relegation season of 2009-10, and is despite McLean only playing half of last season having moved to Hull City in January.
Any manager might infer from these figures that the trio are natural-born goalscorers, especially Mackail-Smith, who contributed 60 of those goals. However, any decent manager would have also borne in mind that Peterborough have played a very open attacking style which leads to goals at both ends – more than 500 in the last three-and-a-half League seasons. Indeed, since leaving London Road, McLean has scored seven in 42 matches for Hull, and Mackail-Smith seven in 23 for Brighton.
Many strikers find it tough at a higher level. The top three scorers in the Championship last season, Danny Graham, Shane Long and Jay Bothroyd, hit 62 goals between them. In the top flight this year they have 12 collectively. Cody MacDonald scored 25 times for Gillingham in League Two while on loan from Norwich last season, but has managed one for Coventry in the Championship.
So who will move in January? Lambert probably will not – he is 30 in February so has no resale value, and Southampton have the funds to resist a bid. McLeod, now 27, has already tried and failed at a higher level, with Charlton.
Of other possibilities, Burnley's talented youngster Jay Rodriguez is much-coveted; and financially stretched Coventry may find it hard to keep Lukas Jutkiewicz.
Will it work? Besides Carroll and Torres, there were some lower-profile January buys that did not work out – notably Charlie Austin who failed, with Burnley, to add to the dozen goals he had scored at Swindon. He has, however, scored eight already this season so that gamble may be coming off. As January approaches, which managers feel lucky?
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