THE WINNER: WES HARDING
WES Harding got what he wanted out of his first year at Rotherham United: games.
And Rotherham United got what they wanted out of Wes Harding: performances.
The 24-year-old, who arrived in the summer from Birmingham City for a fee of around £150,000, has appeared in every single match of the 2020/21 campaign.
He’s played right-back, left-back, centre-half, as a wing-back on both flanks and earned his first international recognition with Jamaica.
His speed, athleticism, strength, consistency and comfort on the ball have been a huge asset to Paul Warne’s side at both ends of the pitch.
Captain Richard Wood picked him out as the Millers’ stand-out performer in his column for this newspaper last week and we are delighted to agree.
Wes Harding is the Advertiser’s Rotherham United Player of the Year.
“I’ve found it very good here,” the player said. “When I arrived, my whole thing was that I just wanted to play. For certain reasons, I didn’t have that chance previously at Birmingham.
“I’m so happy to be here because I’ve literally played game after game after game and learned a lot about myself. I’ve been very pleased with my form. I’ve played in various positions and I’m happy with that versatility.”
Manager Warne said: “He’s a brilliant kid from a brilliant family. There’s never any drama with him. He just gets on with doing an excellent job wherever you ask him to play. He fully deserved his Jamaica call-up and I know what a proud young man it made him.”
Harding is a humble, likeable character and one of the most popular members of Warne’s squad.
His face broke into a huge grin when the Advertiser told him about his award after last week’s Blackburn Rovers encounter.
“Thank you very much,” he said. “My oh my. Player of the Year.”
THE Viking would have pushed Harding all the way for the prize had he been in the team from the start of the season.
This was supposed to be a development year for the young Swede but by February he had forced his way into the team and had established himself as a first-choice pick until he was concussed going for an aerial ball late last month at Barnsley.
His complete lack of regard for his own safety has made him a firm favourite with fans while some of his shot-stopping has bordered on astonishing.
“Brave and a little bit crazy,” said Warne. “Just how I like my keepers to be.”
The Millers have found a warrior and Johansson’s relish for the rough stuff is symbolised by the image on his custom-made shin pads: a Viking going into battle.
ANOTHER year, another new contract.
It’s been business as usual for the skipper and club’s longest-serving player.
He may be approaching his 36th birthday but the centre-half is as vital to Rotherham’s cause as ever.
Playing in the middle of a back three has really suited him. He’s the organiser, the inspiration, the leader, the man Warne calls ‘Wrecking Ball’ for his impact at attacking set-pieces. Last month brought a 12-month contract extension and don’t back against him earning another one next year.
THE man Warne rates as his best-ever signing after bringing him in on a free transfer from Bury more than three years ago.
Smith has repeated his Championship form of two seasons ago and no defenders have had an easy time against the striker who does as much damage out wide as he does down the middle.
He’s a towering presence up front and is crucial to the way the Millers play.
Even he accepts he should score more often but he passed 100 career goals last month and his ten this term are his best return at this level.
ANOTHER player who would have run Harding close had he been available all season.
The midfielder was cut down in February by a hamstring injury after he’d become a marauding, pressing force that no opponent enjoyed facing.
Two goals in the home derby triumph against Sheffield Wednesday did little to dent his standing with supporters either!
The Scot is the only player to earn a 10 in the Advertiser ratings in this campaign for his all-action performance in the 2-2 draw with Bournemouth at AESSEAL New York Stadium in November.
A lovely bloke off the pitch, he plays with a snarl on it.
NORMALLY, a loanee who arrived only in January would have no right being on this list but Middlesbrough’s 25-year-old has been no normal player in a Millers shirt.
He has stood out in midfield with his vision, creativity, quick feet and willingness to run and scrap all game long.
Rotherham have taken to him and he has taken to Rotherham.
“He really cares,” says Warne. “He’s become a big voice in the dressing room and he takes a defeat as badly as anyone even though he’s another club’s player.”
He goes back to Boro at the end of the season and finances look likely to prevent a New York return on a permanent basis. But we can dream.