THREE of Rotherham United’s injured players are ready to make their long-awaited returns if manager Paul Warne calls on them over the Easter weekend.
Winger Chiedozie Ogbene, midfielder Jamie Lindsay and centre-half Clark Robertson have been in full training since last Sunday and are available for selection at Millwall tomorrow and at home to Wycombe Wanderers on Monday.
“They’re back with the main group and fully immersed into it,” Warne said. “That’s a huge boost.”
The Millers head to the New Den three points from safety but with four games in hand over most of their survival rivals and have 12 matches in 37 days to secure their Championship status.
Ogbene hasn’t played since September because of a knee injury while Lindsay and Robertson have been sidelined by hamstring pulls for seven and five weeks respectively.
“They are all in contention to be in the squad at Millwall,” Warne said. “All three are understandably rusty. Could they start and play 60 minutes? Maybe not. Could they come on and play for half an hour? Definitely. Whether I choose to use all or none of them, we’ll have to see.”
The trio’s comeback leaves only left-back Joes Mattock out of the first-team reckoning and Rotherham have been further lifted by the return to full fitness of midfielder Ben Wiles who was nursing a sore hamstring when they went into the international break.
“There are positives everywhere,” Warne said.
The club are looking to arrange a 60-minute match against local opposition next Tuesday to sharpen up several of their players who have been lacking game-time.
Ogbene, Lindsay and Robertson could all feature in that depending on whether they have been needed against the Lions and Chairboys.
“They’ve been out for long periods,” Warne said. “They might have to get fit in the first team. It’s not ideal as normally you would let them play reserve games.”
Rotherham’s fate is in their own hands and the manager added: “We’ve got ourselves in a position where we’re competing.
“Had you asked me at the start of the season whether I’d have taken this position, I would probably have said ‘No’. But there would have been a little voice at the back of my mind saying ‘Well, it’s not the worst’.
“We need four or five wins in 12 games and it doesn’t matter who they come against.
“We’ll attack it on Friday and try to win. Our away form has been pretty good. The lads have trained really well and are in a good place.”
Wing-back Wes Harding (Jamaica) and winger Florian Jozefzoon (Suriname) were back at Roundwood yesterday after being on international duty.
Meanwhile, the EFL have now secured the funding that will allow Championship clubs to take interest-free loans of up to £8.3 million to help offset the financial effects of the Covid pandemic.
Chairman Tony Stewart says the Millers are interested and are examining the fine print of a potential deal.
Rotherham spent £184,000 on agent fees between February 1 2020 and February 1 2021, the second-lowest figure of clubs in the Championship the season. Bottom of the list are Wycombe with £126,000 and top are Norwich City with £6.8m.
WARNE ON THE IMPORTANCE OF EASTER
“WITH two games in four days, if you pick up three points from those two, great; if you can pick up four, then you are cooking. The same conversations will be happening at Coventry and Birmingham.
“You can quickly get yourself out of it. But a couple of bad results, with results elsewhere going against you as well, and you can quickly fall into a hole you can’t get out of.
“You have to average at least a point a game. If you get wins, you’re ahead of schedule. If you lose the first two when you come back after the international break, the one after that is virtually a must-win game.
“If you win the first match, you still play with the same intensity in the next game and anything you get is a bonus.”
MATTOCK POISED TO BOOST NUMBERS FOR CRUNCH WEEK
JOE Mattock is hoping to play a part in the biggest week of Rotherham United’s season as he nears the end of his four-month injury ordeal.
The left-back has been out of action since requiring ankle surgery in December but is on the brink of a comeback.
“I’m led to believe he will join in squad training next Tuesday,” said manager Paul Warne whose Millers squad begin their 12-match Championship survival run-in at Millwall tomorrow.
That will leave Mattock potentially in the frame for the crucial run of four matches in nine days that begins at Huddersfield Town a week on Saturday and continues with home games the following Tuesday against QPR, on Thursday against Coventry City and on Sunday against Birmingham City.
Those fixtures could decide the Millers’ second-tier fate and Warne said of the brutal schedule caused by Covid and weather postponements: “There’s no point moaning about it
I’m not emotional about it either way. It’s a case of, this is what we’ve got to do, get on with it. It’s in black and white. Let’s just go for it.
“It’s a conundrum at the best of times when it comes to selecting a team and I can’t say yet whether we’ll be picking a load of fresh faces for each game.
“It will all depend on the game before and whether we have played well and whether I’ve been able to take off a key player or two after 60 minutes to save them. There are loads of different things to it.
“We need as fit a squad as possible so we can make changes when we think they are necessary. I trust all the players. What you don’t want to do is play them too much in quick succession and then pick up injuries. That would be a disaster.
“We are going to have to change as much as we can without losing the backbone of the team.”
Warne has used the international break to give his squad a final injection of fitness.
“We had three consecutive hard days last week,” the boss said. “We needed to blow the cobwebs off a few of those who had been self-isolating before the break.
“We obviously have a big load ahead of us with the amount of games in quick succession. The lads have to train their bodies to take that. We have to make sure that they can handle a schedule where they play, have only two days in between and then play again.
“This week has been a normal week. I’ve enjoyed being able to train the players without having to worry about a game in a day’s time or whatever.”