Jay’s debt to striker Gray

MUCH is made of Ade Akinbiyi’s role in natural born Claret Jay Rodriguez’s development.

But the 21-year-old is the first to admit he learned a lot from another celebrated former Burnley striker, Andy Gray.

Gray, who netted 30 goals in 73 appearances for the club before a £1.5m move to Charlton in January 2008, was often described as a “model professional” during his two years at the club.

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Rodriguez signed professional terms in the summer of 2007, and picked up a lot of good habits from the Scotland international.

The Burnley-born striker is currently enjoying his best spell in the first team, starting the last five games, and his goal at Sheffield United on Saturday (pictured, right) was his third of the campaign.

And he looked back on Barnsley frontman Gray’s time at Turf Moor: “When I first met him, he was a great pro and a great guy.

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“He helped me as well.

“With being a striker and me coming in young, it was always good to learn from him.

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“You look at players like Ade (Akinbiyi) and Andy Gray who have played a lot, and you can take all sorts of different attributes from their game and try to add them to your own.

“Andy Gray’s a great finisher and a great centre forward. Of course you want to take bits of what you can do and try to add them to your own game.”

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Rodriguez linked up again with Gray at Barnsley last season, when he spent a month on loan at Oakwell in February.

And the pair combined to good effect in a 4-1 win at Preston, when Gray teed up the youngster to score with his first touch: “He got in behind and then saw me in the middle and put the perfect ball in.

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“I couldn’t miss really.”

That loan spell was chance to Rodriguez to take out some frustration after a campaign that saw him make only two appearances for the Clarets - both in the Carling Cup - before fracturing his ankle and spending three months on the sidelines.

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He benefitted from his spell with the Tykes, and said: “It’s a great club and I enjoyed my month there, even though it was only a short time.

“The staff and players there are really good people.

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“It was good that I already knew Andy, and Stephen Foster, and it was good to go to another club.

“I’d have liked to have played more but obviously I wasn’t there for long so it was hard.

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“But it was good to get out and play.

“Last year was very frustrating. I just wanted to play in the Premier League.

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“In a way it was a poor season for me last year.

“But now I just look forward and try to forget that year and carry on.”

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Rodriguez’s patience has paid off however, and rather than look to move away, he has become a regular at his boyhood club: “Being patient has turned out to be a good thing.

“Breaking my ankle set me back as well.

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“But I think it’s helped me to be patient, to get my head down and work hard at my game.

“That’s what I’ve tried to bring to this season.

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“When you’re not playing it’s probably the worst place to be.

“But when you are playing it’s great and that’s how I want it to stay. I want to keep playing.

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“You’re growing up and learning all the time in football.

“You have to be patient and try to control your emotions and keep your head down.

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“I learnt a lost last season, even though it was a poor one for me.”

Improving all the time, the last two games have seen the Barrowford Celtic product score his first Burnley goals away from home - indeed, his first not at the Jimmy McIlroy end!

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His first five goals for the club all came at the end he used to stand at to watch Burnley, and he smiled: “I surprised myself when I scored my first away goal!

“All the others were in front of the Jimmy Mac Stand.

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I used to stand there when it was the Bee Hole End.

“I remember my dad taking me for the first time, but I can’t remember how old I was or what game it was.

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“Then through the Centre of Excellence we got free tickets so I used to come on with a few of the lads.

“My mates come on still.

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“But my hero was Robbie Blake. He’s class isn’t he?

“When Ian Wright came he was good, and Andy Payton.

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“He was a great goalscorer and a local hero.”

Rodriguez is certainly going the right way towards emulating Payton as the town’s own striking hero.