When David Goodwillie left United it looked like this season they may struggle for goals.
Especially as he was joined at the exit door by Craig Conway, Morgaro Gomis, and Prince Buaben – the men any Tannadice frontman would have expected to rely on for service. Johnny Russell had broken into the United team last season but had still been largely overshadowed by the much-vaunted Goodie, a year his senior.
This season though, a potent attacking trio of Gary Mackay-Steven, captain Jon Daly, and Johnny Russell have stepped up to the plate and managed to keep the goals flowing for United.
Last season’s final tally of 9 goals in 34 matches suggested definite promise from Russell, but this season’s eventual haul of 14 goals from 41 matches saw an improvement from 2010-11’s scoring rate of just better than 1 in 4, to just better than 1 in 3. All the more impressive when you consider that he’s been operating as a ‘second striker’ to Daly. Indeed, the impact of Russell’s tireless running and buzzbomb-style in creating the space for Daly to finish as 2nd top scorer in the division with 19 SPL goals shouldn’t be underplayed.
A sending off against Rangers for a headbutt on Kirk Broadfoot seemed to hint at a volatile temperament, but an immediate statement of remorse was followed up for the rest of the season by an ability to screw the nut as well as throw it. Even that red card wasn’t enough to stop him being named as the Clydesdale Bank SPL Young Player of the Month a few days later.
Russell’s performances were also enough to draw a bid in the January transfer window from Celtic. Their optimistic offer of £500,000 was swatted away though, by a United board clearly realising the talent – and the value of it – that they now had on their hands.
Russell’s immediate Tannadice future may now depend on what bids the club draws for other players. Talk of six-figure offers for Mackay-Steven, and interest in Gavin Gunning, may be enough to offset any need to cash in on Russell just yet. The player himself may also look to his former team-mate Goodwillie’s limited game-time at Blackburn and exercise caution in balancing a desire for a bigger stage with the need to be playing regularly to continue his rapid development.
Whether he stays at United or moves on next season, Russell should be looking to benefit from the confirmation of Steven Fletcher’s international exile under Craig Levein.
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