Pa­tient Wood over­comes ad­ver­sity for dream move

Herald on Sunday - - SPORT -

ranks. It was a wel­com­ing en­vi­ron­ment, and he re­mains friends with many col­leagues from those times.

“I was al­ways shel­tered com­ing up through West Brom, meet­ing the first team play­ers and get­ting to know them through­out the whole time,” said Wood. “Then I got put out on loan [to Barns­ley], hav­ing to learn about things in a new dress­ing room, new peo­ple. I was 18 years old and it is a lot to deal with as a young­ster.”

Wood strug­gled at the time but wouldn’t change the ex­pe­ri­ence.

“I learnt so much — lit­tle in­sights into how man­agers think, or how peo­ple play, or what first team life­style is like. You learn, you go through it. It’s one of those [times] where you ei­ther step up and do it, or you will fade away and it won’t work for you.”

Nu­mer­ous young New Zealan­ders have strug­gled to over­come ad­ver­sity in Eng­land and their ca­reers never re­cov­ered. Wood was the op­po­site. His ex­pe­ri­ence in South York­shire was tough, but his char­ac­ter and self-be­lief were il­lus­trated at his next loan club, Brighton. He slot­ted a penalty on de­but, his first suc­cess­ful spot kick in Eng­land, only two days af­ter ar­riv­ing on the South Coast. He had scored just one league goal in the pre­vi­ous 11 months, was still get­ting to know his team­mates and the match was in the bal­ance at 1-1 in the 73rd minute.

“When the penalty hap­pened, I was con­fi­dent enough to take it,” re­called Wood. “The guy that nor­mally took them said ‘yeah, no prob­lem’, which was re­ally nice of him. Thank­fully it worked out.”

Wood soared with the Seag­ulls, net­ting nine goals from 22 starts, but wasn’t re­tained as Brighton won League One.

“I would have loved to have stayed — great team, great peo­ple, great city — but they wanted to go in an­other di­rec­tion. You have to ac­cept that, it’s foot­ball.”

There have been many highlights since. At Birmingham, he scored a 99th-minute win­ner in a Europa League match against Brugge (“that was a huge goal, peo­ple still re­mind me of it”) and also nabbed a ‘per­fect’ hat-trick, his first in English foot­ball.

He scored a goal in his sec­ond game at Bris­tol City, and a mem­o­rable strike against Ever­ton on his Premier League de­but for Le­ices­ter. And then there was Leeds, who didn’t lose a game for al­most 18 months when­ever Wood scored, and he net­ted al­most half Leeds’ league goals last sea­son.

‘He’s al­ways had an eye for a goal, that in­stinct you can’t teach,” re­called Wilkin­son. “I re­mem­ber when I first saw him as a young lad — he was a goal thief. He could get a goal out of nowhere. He was a big lad phys­i­cally but what stood out the most was his will­ing­ness to lis­ten and im­prove, and his abil­ity to be in the right place, to read sit­u­a­tions. You were think­ing ‘Okay — he’s got a bit of some­thing’.”

Wilkin­son picked the 15-year-old for Hamil­ton Wan­der­ers (“I think he got the golden boot”), then helped ar­range the West Brom move.

“You al­ways thought he would go on,” said Wilkin­son. “He’s made the most out of what he has got.”

Ryan Nelsen, with 191 top flight ap­pear­ances at Black­burn, Spurs and Queens Park Rangers, re­mains the Premier League bench­mark among Ki­wis. He first en­coun­tered Wood in 2009, when the 17-yearold of­ten tested him­self di­rectly against the New Zealand skip­per in All Whites camps.

“Striker is one of the hard­est po­si­tions on the field,” Nelsen told Ra­dio Sport. “But Chris has been work­ing so hard over the last two years. There are 20 Premier League teams, and ev­ery sin­gle striker in the world wants to play on those 20 teams. And ev­ery one of those teams has the bud­gets to hold two, three or four in­ter­na­tional class strik­ers. So wher­ever he goes, there will be se­vere com­pe­ti­tion. But his style, and the way Burn­ley play, I think it is a re­ally nice fit.”

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