Sheffield Wednesday v Blackburn Rovers: Sam Winnall and Jordan Rhodes can map out Owls’ way forward

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THERE is only one burning issue dominating the thoughts of Sheffield Wednesday fans this month, namely who will emerge as head coach Carlos Carvalhal’s preferred striking combination.

Carvalhal has a surfeit of options at his disposal, and the smart money is on his first choice being Jordan Rhodes plus one other, given the significant investment on many levels that Wednesday made to bring the forward to South Yorkshire

Sam Winnall celebrates his goal against Birmingham City with fellow Sheffield Wednesday scorer Jordan Rhodes

Sam Winnall celebrates his goal against Birmingham City with fellow Sheffield Wednesday scorer Jordan Rhodes

Given all the ballyhoo surrounding Rhodes’s deadline-day capture, it was easy to forget that another forward in Sam Winnall also joined the Owls during the winter window.

While many in his shoes might have wondered what the implications would be following the signing of Rhodes, there were other seasoned Wednesday observers who believed that the arrival of the Middlesbrough striker would not necessarily be bad news. Quite the opposite.

In his successful times at Blackburn – who renew acquaintances with Rhodes this evening – and Huddersfield, the Owls’ stellar January recruit thrived alongside a strike partner with aerial prowess, an ability to link play adeptly and a propensity not to give defenders much peace either.

The likes of Rudy Gestede, Alan Lee and Lee Novak all fell into that bracket, and many believe that Winnall’s attributes will also successfully dovetail with those of Rhodes, as much if not more so than other Wednesday strikers.

Given the events of Friday, when Winnall and Rhodes displayed clear chemistry playing alongside each other and both found the net for the first time in Owls’ colours in the 3-0 victory over Birmingham City, that particular case was strengthened.

Winnall said: “It is a pleasure to play with Jordan and I really enjoyed it and I think he did as well and we kind of complemented each other and it was great for us to get off the mark in front of the fans at Hillsborough and hopefully we can go from strength to strength.

“Jordan looks to play on the shoulder a little bit more and play on the last man, whereas I look to drop in and link the play a little bit more.

“That is probably why we complement each other a little bit because we have got similarities in our goalscoring, but differences in our build-up and play.

“I really enjoyed it on Friday and hopefully it can be the start of a good partnership.”

Rhodes’s celebration after opening his Owls account on Friday was clearly from the heart and alluded to his tough experiences on the periphery at Middlesbrough in the most challenging time of a career that had previously been relatively smooth.

In marked contrast, Winnall was hit by rejection and injuries in his early years as a professional before his time at Scunthorpe and latterly Barnsley provided sanctuary and a regular flow of goals.

His Oakwell exploits helped secure him a second chance at the comparative big time at Wednesday and after failing to crack it at hometown club Wolves earlier in his career, the 26-year-old’s desire to make up for that at another venerable footballing institution is obvious.

It probably explained his own emotional celebrations to finding the net for the first time for Wednesday last Friday, with it clear that his strike – a classic centre-forward’s header following an inviting centre from Jack Hunt – meant the world to him.

Adamant that he felt no extra point to prove after the signing of Rhodes, the Midlander added: “Not really. I believe in my ability and believe that the coaching staff here believe in my ability.

“It was not a feeling of having to prove myself at all, but more elation (with the goal), to be honest.”

On the importance of his goal, he added: “It was fantastic.

“Obviously to get my first goal for the club in front of the Kop in a game where it needed a goal to secure the points, it was fantastic.

“It was a special moment and it was very enjoyable. The cross was fantastic and could not have been any better and it was pretty much perfect.

“Hunty (Jack Hunt) has got that in the locker and hopefully it is something I can benefit from for the rest of the season.”

Even accounting for Winnall’s tough times in his early career, broad shoulders, a strong mindset and innate belief in his goalscoring ability have served him well ever since.

His strength of character has also proved a handy mechanism to cope with the barrage of ‘stick’ that has come his way following his move from Barnsley to Wednesday – something that Reds fans are unlikely to forget in a hurry.

Winnall said: “I have obviously had a lot of stick. But it was expected and that’s football.

“You take the rough with the smooth.”

Last six games: Sheffield Wednesday LWLDWW Blackburn LDWLWD.

Referee: S Duncan (Northumberland).

Last time: Sheffield Wednesday 2 Blackburn 1; April 5, 2016; Championship.