By Harry Sykes

Aston Villa have abandoned their pursuit of Middlesbrough striker Jordan Rhodes, according to a report.

News site HITC claimed last week manager Steve Bruce has made the prolific front man his number one target when the window re-opens next month.

But the Telegraph claim that Villa “have distanced themselves from a New Year move for Rhodes as they are targeting players in other positions”.

Bruce has been strongly linked with a move for Manchester United back-up goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, while it has also been reported that the club are eyeing an inventive midfielder and a left-back.

Villa have been transformed by the former Hull manager since he took over at the club when they were struggling in mid October under ex-boss Roberto Di Matteo.

The Midlands giants have lost just once in nine games under Bruce and have climbed to 13th in the Championship and within four points of the play-off positions.

Meanwhile, Rhodes is unlikely to be short of interest from second-tier clubs next month. The former Blackburn and Huddersfield striker, 26, has slipped down the pecking order at Middlesbrough and could be sold to provide funds for Aitor Karanka to strengthen other areas of his squad.

The Premier League forward is a goal machine, with a record of 84 goals in 169 appearances for Blackburn and 86 goals in just 147 matches for Huddersfield.

At Middlesbrough, the Scotland international has mainly been on the fringes of the team since his January move, but has still netted six times in 22 matches.

Football Insider verdict:

Given Bruce’s need for a goal machine who can do what his strikers haven’t done often enough in the first half of the season, it is surprising that he has rejected the possibility to sign Rhodes. Indeed, the emphatic decision weeks before the window has opened suggests that the Villa boss has another striker or attacking player lined up, or wants someone who is better able to thrive in the Premier League should the Midlands club storm back to the top flight at the first attempt. There is only logic to Bruce’s decision if he has a more cunning plan.

In other Aston Villa transfer news, fans have reacted on Twitter as Bruce seals his first signing this month before the window even opens.