BLACKBURN boss Gary Bowyer took a thinly-veiled swipe at Scotland manager Gordon Strachan after Jordan Rhodes’ late leveller salvaged a point at Burnley last weekend.
“The game’s about opinions,” said Bowyer. “And our opinion of Jordan Rhodes is that he is a fantastic striker.”
Strachan, of course, is less convinced. After Rhodes’ fruitless 20-minute run out against Belgium during the international break, Strachan stated pretty unambiguously that he judged Rhodes incapable of playing as a lone striker.
“Jordan is at his best when he plays with another striker, lots of people round about him and lots of crosses,” said Strachan. “We don’t get that at international football. It leaves him with a system that doesn’t suit him.”
Meaning Rhodes, who cost Blackburn £8m, single-handedly kept them up last year and has now scored 132 goals by the age of 23, is probably behind Leigh Griffiths, Ross McCormack, Jamie Mackie and Steven Fletcher in the Scottish pecking order.
Naturally, this has sparked frenzied debate in Scotland. But having watched Rhodes many times over the years, I can’t help but think Strachan has a point.
Yes, he is scoring goals for Blackburn as a lone striker. Yes, he is taking the slim pickings that come his way.
But Michelangelo would have created a masterpiece with a box of crayons. Give him a set of oil paints and he’ll paint the Sistine Chapel.
Give Rhodes a partner and two wingers and he won’t just get flukey goals off his shin. He’ll get braces, hat-tricks and more – just ask Huddersfield, who built their system to feed him.
Rhodes is a bright guy who has adapted to playing alone. He’ll battle, he’ll hold it up, he’ll win free-kicks. But it doesn’t come naturally. He isn’t Grant Holt.
For me, both Strachan and Bowyer need to be brave enough to build a team around Rhodes.
Otherwise, neither will get to see what one of the finest strikers of his generation is truly capable of.
BROWN’S IN RISKY BUSINESS
FANS love a straight-talking manager but Phil Brown is playing a dangerous game in slagging off his Southend players.
“I want one or two proper characters in the squad because there just aren’t enough,” he said after last weekend’s 1-0 defeat to Scunthorpe, their fourth successive loss.
“These lads not only don’t seem to know how to manage the game at key moments but also aren’t stepping up and showing some courage when it gets tough.
“It’s a lack of intelligence to manage the game correctly and a lack of courage to just get hold of the ball. They need to grow up fast.”
In other words, his players are cowardly, thick and juvenile. Maybe he’s hoping it will get them going. Maybe it was designed to get the fans onside. Maybe it was aimed at provoking the board to stump up for loan signings.
Brown will have to hope so. Because if no new players come in, he could be left with a squad of players who hate his guts. And that can end only one way.
NUGENT SPOT ON AT LAST
DAVID Nugent must be kicking himself. Until this season, the Leicester striker had never much fancied himself from 12 yards.
“I’d always said to people that I’m not a really a penalty-taker,” he said. “I always left them to someone else.”
But after taking some stick for letting rookie Anthony Knockaert take – and miss – a last-gasp penalty in last year’s play-off defeat to Watford, the 28-year-old decided to take on the responsibility.
Now Nugent has four goals from four expertly dispatched spot-kicks, the latest in Tuesday’s 2-1 win over Blackburn.
With 115 goals from 430 games, his record is hardly shabby. But imagine how it might have looked like if he’d been taking penalties for the last 13 years!
LOWRY NEEDS TO FIND WAY OUT OF RED MIST
WE all love someone who gets stuck in. But six red cards and 35 yellows by the age of 24? That sounds less like commitment and more like stupidity.
Yet that is the rap sheet of Millwall’s Shane Lowry, a man who loves a red card. So much, in fact, he can’t let a season pass without one.
Last weekend’s dismissal for a daft hack at Will Hughes in the 5-1 defeat to Derby means the former Aston Villa youngster has been sent off at least once in every single season since he turned pro. Lowry is no thug. He isn’t leaping into challenges hell bent on snapping bones.
Of the six red cards, two were for bringing down the last man and one was for a handball on the line. Both are occupational hazards for a defender.
Nevertheless, the timing of his indiscretions tell of a man who rarely thinks before he acts. Who lets instinct overrule intelligence and frustration trump foresight. A Championship Lee Cattermole.
On Saturday, it was only 2-0 when he jumped in on Hughes. With 40 minutes to play and a full compliment of players, who is to say the Lions wouldn’t have rallied?
Similarly, a year ago, Lowry fouled the clean-through Dwight Gayle to leave his side with nine men against Peterborough. At 4-1 down with just 20 minutes left, Millwall had no chance of coming back. It was a pointless red card compounded by a pointless suspension.
So too in 2010-11 when Lowry, whose Sheffield United were trailing Scunthorpe 3-2, brought down Joe Garner in injury time. With the Blades in a relegation battle, short of players and losing anyway, it achieved nothing.
I could go on – all but one of Lowry’s red cards has an element of idiocy. Unlike, say, Lee Williamson, whose calculated late foul on Burnley’s Danny Ings probably earned a Blackburn a point last weekend, Lowry was never taking one for the team. He was just taking out his frustrations.
Which is fine if you’re four years old. But at 24, it’s just unprofessional. Sides like Millwall – small budget, small squad – need every player they’ve got. Physically and financially, they can’t afford to have someone sit out four or five games every year.
Lowry is a good player, but only when he’s on the pitch. And as Cattermole is finding out at Sunderland, there is only so long any manager will tolerate a walking suspension.