CLARETS boss Eddie Howe has heaped praise on prolific striker Jay Rodriguez.
Howe was admittedly surprised, though at the same time relieved, that an official bid hadn’t been received in January’s transfer window after reported interest in the club’s prized asset.
The 22-year-old went on to score his 17th of the season, already beating last campaign’s total, in Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Peterborough United - his fifth goal in as many matches.
“From my point of view I have to say I am a little bit surprised,” said Howe. “I was bracing myself for interest and bids because certainly his form of late has been outstanding.
“The last five or six weeks, his performances have really been taken on to another level in my opinion, he’s scored goals, he’s created goals, his all-round play in terms of helping the team has vastly improved so I’m a little bit surprised.
“But I’m pleased, don’t get me wrong, I’m delighted that we’ve managed to keep him and hopefully he can spearhead our attack in the second half of the season.”
In terms of shots on goal Rodriguez has accumulated the most in the Championship while only Saints hot shot Rickie Lambert boasts more goals in all competitions.
“I’m not sure (if there’s better), it’s difficult for me to judge other players, all I can look at is what Jay does day in day out, he’s got a great attitude, he wants to work, he wants to learn,” said Howe. “I certainly feel he perhaps doesn’t get the credit he deserves for whatever reason, whether that’s because he’s playing for Burnley I don’t know.
“Praise for him has been a bit quiet apart from really us championing his cause and the people in and around the area.
“I don’t think he’s perhaps got the credit he deserves for his performances this year.”
Howe added: “I think it’s a good thing from our point of view because it means we keep him quiet and under the radar, and it’s typical of Jay really because he doesn’t shout from the rooftops either.
“He’s that type of lad that just goes about his business and doesn’t get too big for his boots, he just wants to work hard, learn and help the team, which is full credit to him.
“I haven’t seen many better strikers this season so we’re delighted he’s with us and we want to keep him here for as long as we can.”
Jay Rod is among 10 players at Turf Moor whose current contracts expire in 17 months time while seven run out this coming summer. And Howe is eager to get things moving on that front.
“There’s going to be a shift in that way I’m sure,” he said. “A lot of players have got 18 months left on their deals, we don’t want to get into a situation where they’re able to leave for nothing so we’ll have a look at that and hopefully come to the right decisions.”
Howe believes that the confidence and morale within the ranks is the best he’s seen at the club since his arrival almost 13 months ago. The Burnley boss admits that his squad his more settled and it will only get stronger in the closing stages of the season as the likes of Martin Paterson, Danny Ings and Junior Stanislas return to action.
“I think there’s a big confidence now within the players, we haven’t lost anybody, we haven’t lost our best players, we’re still as strong as we have been all season and hopefully when we get a couple of players back from injury we’ll be even stronger,” beamed Howe.
“I think you saw for a period a few weeks ago when everyone was fit how strong a squad we have and what competition for places we have.
“If we can get those bodies back, hopefully we can be a match for anyone in this division.
“I think confidence wise in terms of where we’re going yes (confidence is the highest it’s been).
“The spirit’s always been good, even early season when we were having a tough time we all stuck together and the lads are a joy to work with.”
Despite a point at the weekend the Clarets dropped to 11th, though they remain in touching distance of the play-offs. But the competition in the division is such that Howe expects the standings to keep on fluctuating.
“Every game is a good opportunity,” he said. “A lot can happen between now and the end of the season.
“There are some sides in some good form and sides who are perhaps not in such good form above us, it’s tightened right up, even the top two sides who seemed to be running away with it have now been clawed back a bit.
“So everyone I think quite rightly thinks they’re in with a chance, probably as far down as some sides just above the relegation zone.
“It’s all up for everybody and with so many games to go a lot can happen.”