How knock on Wood re­ceded af­ter Ful­ham goal Clash draw­card for fans

Weekend Herald - - Football - Michael Burgess in Welling­ton

You might say it was a goal that changed Chris Wood’s life.

It cer­tainly changed his out­look on foot­ball, and pro­pelled him to­wards the most im­por­tant sea­son of his foot­ball ca­reer.

The 25-year-old has scored more than 100 se­nior goals in English foot­ball, as well as 24 for the All Whites, only be­hind Vaughan Coveny on the New Zealand all-time list.

Wood has been in Eng­land for al­most a decade, and is a proven goal scorer across sev­eral clubs. But as a striker you are only as good as your last per­for­mance, as Wood found out at the be­gin­ning of last sea­son.

He joined Leeds at the start of the 2015-2016 cam­paign, trans­fer­ring from Le­ices­ter for £3 mil­lion ($5.68 mil­lion). That price tag cre­ated some pres­sure, and the New Zealan­der strug­gled to win over the fans, who, de­spite a cred­itable 13 goals in 36 games, fo­cused on the chances he missed.

The next sea­son started badly. Leeds lost 3-0 away to QPR, then en­dured a 2-1 de­feat at home to Birm­ing­ham, with Wood sub­sti­tuted af­ter the hour mark, to some no­tice­able boo­ing from the El­land Road crowd.

The pres­sure in­creased ex­po­nen­tially as Leeds headed to­wards a third straight loss the fol­low­ing week, trail­ing Ful­ham late in a game at home.

Then Wood did some­thing spe­cial, scor­ing with 94th minute an over­head kick to equalise. It jolted his — and Leeds’ sea­son — into life.

“This was pos­si­bly the most im­por­tant goal I ever scored for Leeds,” Wood told the Week­end Her­ald.

“It was when I was get­ting booed week, in week out. Even though I was top goal scorer the year be­fore, scor­ing more that year then any other Leeds player did in the past three sea­sons. I know it wasn’t all the fans boo­ing me but it was a good ma­jor­ity of them. I guess they just didn’t take a lik­ing to how I played.”

Wood’s cel­e­bra­tion that day was pointed, cup­ping his ear to the Leeds fans on the ter­race, as an in­stant re­ac­tion to the flak he had been cop­ping. But there was also a longer term ef­fect, as he took stock of the way he had per­ceived suc­cess.

“Peo­ple looked back and said it was the turn­ing point in my Leeds ca­reer,” said Wood. “But for me it was the point I learnt that you need to stop car­ing about what other peo­ple think and just do it for you, your fam­ily, friends and team­mates. They are the ones that sup­port you no mat­ter what, through highs and lows, they are al­ways be­hind you.”

With a new fo­cus, Wood had the sea­son of his life, win­ning the Cham­pi­onship golden boot as he reached the mag­i­cal 30 goal mark and sub­se­quently se­cured a move to the English Pre­mier League.

“It was a great les­son to learn and I’m happy I did,” said Wood. “Since that goal I just go out there and do my job, work hard for the team. That’s all that I can con­trol. No point wor­ry­ing about any­thing else be­cause it’s all out of your con­trol.”

All Whites’ team­mate Rory Fal­lon has fol­lowed Wood’s ca­reer closely and recog­nised his dif­fi­cul­ties. “If you are a top player you are go­ing to get peo­ple com­ing at you from all an­gles, whether you are play­ing well or not. You are al­ways in the spot­light but his spot­light is even big­ger.”

That spot­light is at its most in­tense to­day, but Wood is up to the task. The All Whites are off to a win­ning start be­fore they take to the West­pac Sta­dium for the first leg of their World Cup qual­i­fier against Peru.

A poll on nzher­ found the ma­jor­ity of fans would tune into the clash in Welling­ton if they had to choose just one event to watch from this week­end’s bumper sport­ing sched­ule. The All Whites take on the South Amer­i­cans at 4.15pm to­day, while the Ki­wis and Tonga clash in Hamil­ton in a de­cid­ing Rugby League World Cup pool game from 5pm.

To­mor­row, France host the All Blacks in

Paris (8.45am NZT) with the Break­ers (against the Wild­cats in Perth) and Bren­don Hart­ley (in the Brazil­ian Grand Prix) also in ac­tion. Just over 40 per cent of 2800 vot­ers chose the All Whites — fol­lowed by the All Blacks (36 per cent), Ki­wis (18 per cent), Hart­ley (5 per cent) and the Break­ers (1 per cent).

TV aside, be sure to join Ra­dio Sport for this big day. Mar­tin Devlin will lead the build-up from 3pm, with com­men­tary from Ja­son Pine, David Chote and Daniel McHardy.

Pic­ture / Getty Im­ages

Chris Wood’s 2016-17 sea­son was spi­ralling into the dol­drums dur­ing a game against Ful­ham un­til he scored a goal that trans­formed his ap­proach.

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