Dom Howson: Sheffield Wednesday striker Jordan Rhodes must build on his impressive hat-trick in Nottingham Forest rout

Three chances, three goals.

Saturday, 14th December 2019, 2:18 pm
Updated Sunday, 15th December 2019, 11:53 am

Jordan Rhodes, the penalty-box predator, is back.

His stunning first half hat-trick on the banks of the River Trent will live long in the memory and gave the Owls an early Christmas present.

Some home supporters even joined in with the 2,000 plus travelling Wednesdayites in clapping Rhodes off the pitch when he was replaced by Sam Winnall with three minutes to go at the City Ground. Rhodes had more than earned his standing ovation as he walked away with the 12th match ball of his glittering career.

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Jubilant Wednesday boss Garry Monk joked: "I asked him [Rhodes] how many match balls he has got and he said 12; it is not a bad record!"

The turnaround in Rhodes' fortunes has been quite extraordinary. As the Owls stuttered over November and lost ground in the promotion race, Rhodes continued to be overlooked for selection by Monk.

With the likes of Atdhe Nuhiu, Fernando Forestieri and Sam Winnall seemingly ahead of Rhodes in the pecking order, it appeared Rhodes was not part of Monk's long-term plans. His Wednesday future looked in serious doubt.

But Rhodes impressed as a half-time substitute in the come-from-behind win over Brentford, prompting Monk to hand him a first-team recall. There were signs of confidence and belief returning to Rhodes' game in his run-out at Derby County.

Hat trick Jordan Rhodes holding the match ball shaes a joke with Liam Palmer

Monk resisted the temptation to rotate his forward line again at Forest. He stuck with the Rhodes and Steven Fletcher partnership in attack.

As a pairing, the duo cut Forest's defence to shreds.

Rhodes repaid the faith shown in his ability by Monk in what was just his second league start of the campaign.

The striker opened the scoring in the ninth minute with his first Championship goal in 336 days. He latched onto Fletcher's neat flick on before drilling an unstoppable left foot shot into the bottom corner.

It was his first strike for the blue and white wizards in 87 weeks, having last netted on April 2018.

Rhodes scored a trademark goal to double the Owls' lead, heading in Adam Reach's glorious delivery from the right. His clever movement off the ball bamboozled Joe Worrall and Michael Dawson and left the two centre-backs chasing shadows.

He acrobatically completed the perfect hat-trick in the 37th minute with a spectacular overhead kick after Forest failed to clear their lines from a corner.

Fletcher stabbed home a fourth in added on time in the first half but the day belonged to Rhodes.

Under Monk, Wednesday have adopted a more direct approach and are playing with two orthodox wingers. Reach and Kadeem Harris have been encouraged to drive at defences and put crosses into the box at every available opportunity to feed Rhodes and Fletcher.

Rhodes is not the type of forward who will create chances on his own. He requires good service to shine at this level.

You would have to say right now this team looks tailor-made for Rhodes and plays to his strengths.

Full marks to Rhodes for knuckling down in training and showing Monk he still has a lot to offer. It would have been easy for him to sulk over his lack of game time.

He has had his chances in the past but, for whatever reason, not taken them.

But Rhodes has maintained his focus and grasped his latest opportunity to prove the doubters wrong.

"He is a quiet lad," admitted Monk. "He goes about his business real professional.

"The key is when you have to show your personality when you go on to the pitch.

"We know he is a goal-scorer and can score different types of goal.

"You don't have to be loud in and around the place. They (the players) are all different types in the changing room but it is on the pitch where you show your personality and I think he has done that really well.

"He has shown that in training. He has forced his way back into the team and taken his opportunity, which is all you can ask.

"Now the challenge is for him to maintain it and stay in there. It is the same for anyone who gets in those positions."

There has been plenty of affection for Rhodes from his team-mates and fans on social media since the Forest drubbing.

But, of course, one swallow doesn't make a summer. People will only truly start to believe that Rhodes has turned a corner in his Wednesday career should he build on his Forest outing.