Hotshot Jordan Rhodes is ready to give his dad what four again
Huddersfield hitman can add to his tally today against Wednesday, where his father is the goalkeeping coach. He talks to Simon Hart
Saturday, 17 December must have been a strange old day for Andy Rhodes, the Sheffield Wednesday goalkeeping coach. Those afternoons when, after matches for St Johnstone and Airdrieonians, he would stay in his kit and lead his two young boys on to the pitch to take shots at their dad might have entered his mind as he watched his now grown-up son, Jordan, put four goals past the player he works with every day, Stephen Bywater.
"I think he used to let a few in," was Rhodes Jr's recent recollection of those early experiences of hitting the back of a net in a football stadium; nobody could say the same of Bywater, who was simply beaten by a centre-forward on a remarkable hot streak.
"It is something that will never leave me," said Rhodes this week of a "whirlwind of an afternoon" in which he put his Huddersfield side two up, and then struck twice more to retrieve a 4-2 deficit, his coolly taken fourth goal coming six minutes into added time.
Rhodes is reticent about his father's reaction afterwards, mindful of today's reunion with Wednesday in a Yorkshire derby pivotal to both clubs' League One promotion hopes. On Tuesday, with dad watching, he left the pitch at Leyton Orient with his fifth match ball of 2011/12 after a 3-1 win that lifted Huddersfield within three points of third-placed Wednesday. Though not initially credited with his deflected first goal, he insists it "was going in by about a metre inside the post" and it makes him his club's record scorer in a league campaign, with 36 and counting. Add strikes in the cups and with Scotland's Under-21s and he has 44 in all – more than any other player in the country.
Explaining it seems less easy. "Some afternoons you find they end up going in for you; sometimes if you're lucky you get three chances and somehow all three hit the net. On other days when you think you're doing everything right and your movement's going well, the ball ends up going to the back post when you went to the front post, or you'll hit a great strike and it'll hit the bar."
Fortunately for Huddersfield, those "other days" have been rare, with Rhodes's goals pivotal to a promotion push that manager Simon Grayson ("really positive and really encouraging") has continued since Lee Clark's surprise dismissal in February.
Rhodes's own progress is no surprise to Joe Royle, who had him as a teenager at Ipswich Town,where father Andy, a former Oldham player under Royle, was goalkeeping coach. Royle hails his "terrific movement and finishing", adding: "Look at his variety of goals – he can sidefoot them, he can drive them, and the big improvement in his game is he scores headed goals now. If I were a Premier League manager I would be looking at him very closely."
Royle also points to Andy Rhodes's influence. Father and son are regularly out watching matches together – "not just the bigger games but lower-league games where I think I can learn something," said the 22-year-old.
Whatever unfolds this afternoon in front of Huddersfield's biggest crowd of the season, the hope remains in the Rhodes family home in Holmfirth, where those five match balls sit in the living room, that the season will end with a double promotion celebration.
"Hopefully it can be us in second," Rhodes added. "Definitely then I'll focus my attention on cheering on Sheffield Wednesday in the play-offs."
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