Ten games in ... can Rotherham United be the real deal in 2019/20?

By Paul Davis | 11/10/2019

Ten games in ... can Rotherham United be the real deal in 2019/20?
Paul Warne

FORGET sun hats and string vests the last time Rotherham United visited one of England's most popular holiday resorts.

Tin helmets and flak jackets were more the order of the day when Paul Warne took his faltering League One squad to Blackpool in freezing December 2017.

The Millers hadn't won in seven league games and the half-time mood was ugly, nearly 1,000 away fans bombarding them with boos as they trooped from the pitch a goal behind.

Just over an hour later, Rotherham had triumphed 2-1, the away end had defrosted into deranged delight and the famous 14-match unbeaten run that would set up promotion had begun.

Warne's men head back to Bloomfield Road this weekend seeking a similar result after an up-and-down opening to their latest third-tier campaign. More up than down following the 4-0 devastation they wreaked on Coventry City last Saturday.

That encounter was their tenth of the season, traditionally the time when teams take stock of their starts and stats.

After a summer of 12 arrivals and 17 departures, the Millers find themselves in 13th spot but only one win away from serious play-off contention.

At times, they have impressed, at others they have stuttered. There have been memorable away wins and some disappointing home lows.

AESSEAL New York Stadium had been waiting and wanting to be won over by the class of 2019/20 before a switch to 4-4-1-1 saw it all come gloriously together against the previously-unbeaten Sky-Blues.

Suddenly, Rotherham look to be in business.

Expectations are high. The Millers know their way around this level and have been promoted on the last two occasions they have found themselves here, in 2014 under Steve Evans and 2018 in Warne's first full season in charge.

They're midtable, with the capacity to go higher as they remedy the faults that have been keeping them outside the leading pack. The table doesn't normally lie yet it may be telling a little fib on this occasion.

Injuries and exits have hit hard. Hamstring trouble has robbed them of Kyle Vassell and Chiedozie Ogbene, two attackers with the pace and power to make a huge difference, while the sales of Will Vaulks and Semi Ajayi have left them richer in bank balance but weaker at set-pieces.

Four wingers leaving has also deprived them of a key element of their approach since Warne settled into the hot-seat: two wide men spending themselves up and down the line for the first hour to be replaced by two more capable of turning games in the final half-hour.

The imminent return of Ogbene, with Jake Hastie on the other wing, will finally give the manager the dual flank threat he has craved.

Jake Hastie

Among the new boys, Daniel Iversen looks as good as any goalkeeper in the division, right-back Matt Olosunde is a real find, Hastie has thrilling thrust, midfielder Jamie Lindsay is fast emerging as a mobile, hard-nosed operator and striker Freddie Ladapo is blowing hot and, like the Blackpool wind, cold.

Among those remaining from last term, centre-half Michael Ihiekwe has taken a big step up, midfield man Matt Crooks has just exploded as a hard-running 'number 10' and young midfielder Ben Wiles has progressed from prospect to proper player.

Old Rotherham have always been famed for their fight. New Rotherham appeared to accept their fate after the interval at Bristol Rovers a fortnight ago. The second half of that 1-0 defeat will have hurt Warne more than any other this season.

But there was nothing lacking in character as Coventry were demolished. Passion, power, pressing, perseverance. Not old Rotherham or new Rotherham. Real Rotherham.

4-4-1-1 worked. The Millers looked balanced. Round pegs, round holes, square-jawed resilience and running circles round the visitors, Michael Smith back doing what he does best, Crooks discovering what he does best.

Just like Blackpool away two years ago, the Sky-Blues at home might well prove to be a turning point.

Temperatures were near zero that 2017 day on the North-West coast when Rotherham turned up the heat with half-time substitutions and took their first steps towards a Wembley play-off final with a late winner from two-goal David Ball.

“It was a dark moment when the Blackpool lad (Kelvin Mellor) scored a 30-yarder before the break,” Warne recalled.

“I remember thinking we were doing all right in the game, not great. Then the ball fell to him. I was thinking: 'If he hits this, it's going in and that sums up our luck.' I'm thinking: 'What have I done to the soccer gods?'

“We asked the lads, as we always do, to play to their best and said we'd be there afterwards to shake their hands if they did that. We told them to get the ball wide and asked the front two (Ball and sub Jerry Yates) to work their socks off. Bally got us out of it really.”

The Millers wouldn't lose again until March.

Questions were being asked of Warne before that clash with the Tangerines. Sadly, due in some measure to the febrile fermenting ground of social media, they were being asked again before the Coventry contest.

Warne, the man who inspired the Millers' last promotion when things had looked bleak early on. Warne, the boss whose team won the admiration of the country last year when they went toe to toe with the big guns of the Championship and took their survival mission almost to the death.

There has been plenty of considered and just reflection on the merits or otherwise of the Millers so far this term, but some opinions have been ill-conceived and unpleasantly expressed.

Collect a dozen empty heads, give them a shake in a big bucket called Twitter and they will, I fear, make a lot of noise.

The manager has rebuilt the playing operation from the bottom up and is the club's conscience, heart and soul. It was good to hear his name being sung again last weekend.

Vassell and Ogbene are about ready for comebacks after both missed all of September. With another winger, Julien Lamy, emerging from his own injury problems, the Millers at last have options. No longer will central midfielder Shaun MacDonald be the replacement if a wide man blows up or Rotherham are chasing a game. The former Premier League player has much to commend him but impact sub has never been high on his CV.

Jamie Lindsay

Vaulks' absence had, until recently, been keenly felt. Lindsay can't match the long throw but the Scot, now he has forced his way into the side, is replicating the uncompromising Will Effect in most other areas. No quarter asked. Or given.

The 4-3-3 line-up that incorporated three centre-forwards and frustrated lone-striker Smith looks to be an early-season experiment that won't be repeated.

The Millers needed leaders, which is why the development of Lindsay has been important and why the old warrior, centre-half Richard Wood, has been recalled for maybe the 100th time in his New York career.

In 2017, after ten games Rotherham had 15 points. In 2019, after ten games the tally is also 15. The first time around, they went on to reach the Championship.

Defensively, they look solid: they have conceded nine goals and only one team, leaders Ipswich Town, have been breached less.

Last Saturday was a joy and the Millers need to keep creating chances at the same rate. New York came alive against Coventry but other visitors will defend with more vigour, happy to play for a point against a side regarded as a big deal in this division.

This weekend, attention shifts away from home turf and back to Blackpool. By a quirk of fate, the last time the Millers went there and signalled their intent a loss at Bristol Rovers had been their previous away result.

Warne has talked several times already about how quickly and how much back-to-back victories can change the league landscape. Tomorrow, Rotherham have the chance to achieve two on the trot for the first time in this campaign.

They travel to the seaside hoping the tide is turning in their favour.

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TWO HIGHS

Sunderland 1 Millers 1, September 17

Rotherham find themselves a goal down after 31 seconds and are under the cosh as the home side miss a penalty. The Millers fight back to equalise through Jake Hastie in the second half and could have gone on to win the game.

Millers 4 Coventry City 0, October 5

The Sky-Blues arrive at AESSEAL New York Stadium unbeaten and are sent packing as Rotherham destroy them 4-0 with a performance of relentless, front-foot attacking and pressing.

 

TWO LOWS

Millers 0 Lincoln City 2, August 10

Rotherham create nearly all the chances at New York but are done on the break as the Imps serve notice of what a lot of visiting sides will do this season by time-wasting and keeping men behind the ball.

Bristol Rovers 1 Millers 0, September 28

There is nothing like the usual spirit from the Millers in the second half as they fall behind in the 48th minute and allow the home side to take control.

 

TEN-GAME RECORD

2019/20, League One

Ten games: 15 points (W4 D3 L3)

 

2018/19, Championship

Ten games: ten points (W3 D1 L6)

End of season: 22nd (relegated)

 

2017/18, League One

Ten games: 15 points (W5 D0 L5)

End of season: fourth (promoted through play-offs)

 

2016/17, Championship

Ten games: six points (W1 D3 L6)

End of season: 24th (relegated)

 

2015/16, Championship

Ten games: eight points (W2 D2 L6)

End of season: 21st

 

2014/15, Championship

Ten games: 11 points (W3 D2 L5)

End of season: 21st

 

2013/14, League One

Ten games: 19 points (W5 D4 L1)

End of season: fourth (promoted through play-offs)

 

2012/13, League Two

Ten games: 15 points (W4 D3 L3)

End of season: second (promoted)


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