Jordan Rhodes has endured a tough three years at Sheffield Wednesday since becoming the club’s record signing.
An £8m move from Middlesbrough in 2017, the free-spending Owls seemed to have bagged a striker whose goals would open the door to the Premier League.
To get 10 before Christmas is nice. I never really set goal targets.Steven Fletcher
But Rhodes, a poacher who made his name at Huddersfield Town, has continually struggled for goals – and games – under a string of managers in Carlos Carvalhal, Jos Luhukay and Lee Bullen.
He was jettisoned out on a season-long loan to Norwich City last season and his days at Hillsborough seemed numbered.
But maybe, just maybe, Rhodes could find a way to salvage his Owls career.
Granted, he has yet to start a game under current manager Garry Monk, but the introduction of Rhodes as a half-time substitute – with Brentford in control and leading 1-0 – helped Wednesday battle back to claim all three points.
He may not have found the net, but his movement and runs created space for strike partner Steven Fletcher, who bagged both goals to take his season’s tally to 10.
Both Fletcher and Monk were quick to praise Rhodes’s contribution.
“Hopefully, it’s a springboard for him,” said Monk. “We all want him to do well and I’ve had good conversations with Jordan, we spoke about how tough it’s been for him.
“To come on and help affect that game like he did, stretch the game, create space for Fletch and help his team to move up the pitch better and put that intensity in, I thought he was fantastic.”
Fletcher added: “Rhodes made some great runs behind, created space for me in the hole, so that was good.
“He did very well, just what the manager asked him to do, get in behind them.
“He has been out of the picture for a long time, I don’t know when it was the last time he played. That’s credit to him, he is a real player and he has shown that today.”
It is actually over 18 months since Rhodes last started an Owls game – a 3-0 home win over Reading on April 21, 2018 – while his last goal in blue and white came in the 1-0 win at Hull City a week earlier.
While he failed to find the net on Saturday, after replacing Atdhe Nuhiu, Rhodes proved the perfect foil for Fletcher.
If ever a match encapsulated the phrase ‘a game of two halves’, this was it. Wednesday were not in the game in the opening 45 minutes. They lacked tempo, their use of two towering centre-forwards in Nuhiu and Fletcher was too predictable, and there was no real urgency to their attacks.
The main highlights at half-time were several crunching tackles from midfielder Sam Hutchinson. It was the sort of game where Owls fans wished they were Christmas shopping, particularly when Bryan Mbeumo headed the Bees in front on 29 minutes.
The turning point came with the arrival of Rhodes. Suddenly, the Owls started to stretch Brentford’s back line – Rhodes darting forward at every opportunity – and Fletcher was the main beneficiary. The Scotland international could have had a hat-trick before he eventually equalised.
Rhodes nipped in at the front post, leaving space for Fletcher to smash an acrobatic volley wide.
The striker then raced onto Cameron Dawson’s long clearance, forcing a super one-handed save from Bees goalkeeper David Raya, before Fletcher headed wide from Barry Bannan’s free-kick. Fletcher made no mistake from the penalty spot, on 69 minutes, when he converted after Rico Henry handled Kadeem Harris’s cross. Four minutes later, a quick throw-in sent Harris scampering clear and his cross was tucked away by Fletcher.
Fletcher said: “It was a really good win, a bit of a slow start from us in the first half. It wasn’t good enough from us at all.
“We said that at half-time, and came out in the second half, pressed them high, and managed to create chances.
“We all knew the first half wasn’t good enough, we were a bit sloppy. We had a game-plan and didn’t really carry it out in the first half. We came out in the second half and stuck to the game-plan, which the gaffer had worked on during the week, and that’s what got us the win.”
Fletcher is enjoying his best season, in terms of goals, since arriving on a free transfer from Sunderland in 2016.
The 32-year-old’s best goals tally is 11, a target he should exceed considering he has already reached double figures.
“To get 10 before Christmas is nice,” said Fletcher, who has netted five goals in his last four games. “I never really set goal targets.”
Victory over Brentford – the Owls’ first win against a top 10 team this season – saw Monk’s side climb into the play-off positions, ahead of back-to-back away games this week against Derby County and Nottingham Forest.
Former Wolverhampton and Marseille forward Fletcher believes the Owls have a squad which can challenge for promotion.
“The squad we have here is fantastic,” he said. “It’s one of the best, if not the best, I have been involved in. Not just on the pitch, but off it, too, they are a great bunch of lads. Everyone sticks together. I am really looking forward to the rest of the season and seeing how it goes.”
Sheffield Wednesday: Dawson, Odubajo, Iorfa, Lees, Fox, Murphy (Reach 63), Hutchinson (Luongo 78), Bannan, Harris, Nuhiu (Rhodes 45), Fletcher. Unused substitutes: Jones, Lee, Pelupessy, Borner.
Brentford: Raya, Rasmussen, Jeanvier, Pinnock, Henry, Mokotjo (Jensen 71), Norgaard, Dasilva, Mbeumo, Watkins, Benrahma. Unused substitutes: Thompson, Daniels, Sorensen, Zamburek, Oksanen, Mogensen.
Referee: D Whitestone (England).