If Huddersfield Town are not playing football at a higher level next season, Jordan Rhodes surely will be. The 22-year-old Scotland international striker scored his 38th goal of a marvellously productive season as Simon Grayson's Terriers secured a substantial advantage going into the second leg of this League One play-off semi-final, reminding Championship and Premier League clubs that he is a goal-scoring talent of rare potential.
Town, of course, will hope he is leading their attack in the Championship, and this result substantially improves their chances of that happening, but Reading, newly promoted to the Premier League, are among those said to be ready to make an offer.
Rhodes' only thoughts after the game were of how well Huddersfield had played. "We knew we'd have to give a very disciplined performance, because they were going to have a lot of ball in certain areas of the pitch, and we had to be relaxed about that. Scoring before half-time helped us do that, and we were very solid after that," he said.
Both these sides could draw on the experience of taking part in the League One play-offs last season, when Milton Keynes lost to Peterborough in the semi-finals and Huddersfield beat Bournemouth in the semi-final, but lost out to the Posh in the final.
Grayson, who has previously led both Blackpool and Leeds to promotion from this division, had promised his side would be positive, and after a cautious opening, the Terriers began to get numbers forward, but clear cut chances were relatively few.
The visitors were looking dangerous though, and moments after Kallum Higginbotham, set up by Rhodes in the Dons' penalty area, had seen his shot blocked by goalkeeper David Martin's foot, they took the lead. Lee Novak curled in a cross from the left and Rhodes, having stolen ahead of his defender, rose to glance a header beyond Martin and inside the far post.
The Dons should have been level early in the second-half, when a free-kick swung in from the right fell to Dean Lewington in the six yard box after being missed by Town defender Peter Clarke. The full-back swung his right foot, but Ian Bennett blocked.
Clarke redeemed himself soon afterwards with a perfectly timed tackle on Dean Bowditch in the Town penalty area as Karl Robinson's team finally began to put the visitors under pressure. Bowditch and Charlie MacDonald pushing up to give Alan Smith more support was giving MK more options, and the introduction of Jay O'Shea on the hour – Smith going off to be replaced by MacDonald up front – re-invigorated their midfield.
Huddersfield, though were always ready to break. Rhodes' clever header put Novak clear only for the forward to pull his shot wide, but with 17 minutes left the visitors got a potentially vital second. Jack Hunt combined with Higginbotham before cutting inside the Dons' penalty area and driving a shot past the slightly wrong-footed Martin.
Huddersfield were good value for their lead. It might have been different if Bennett had not superbly kept out Jabo Ibehre's header in the last minute, but it is hard to see Milton Keynes over-turning the deficit at the Galpharm Stadium on Tuesday.
Robinson said: "I have tremendous faith in this group of players, I know what they're capable of, and I'm looking forward to the second leg."
MK Dons (4-5-1): Martin; Chicksen, MacKenzie, S Williams, Lewington; Powell, Potter, MacDonald (Ibehre, 75), Gleeson, Bowditch; Smith (O'Shea, 60).
Huddersfield (4-4-2): Bennett; Hunt, P Clarke, Morrison, Woods (T Clarke, 51); Arfield (Higginbotham, 27), Miller, Johnson, Ward; Rhodes (Lee, 84), Novak.
Referee Darren Deadman.
Man of the match Rhodes (Huddersfield).
Match rating 7/10.Reuse content