MICHAEL Ihiekwe still hasn’t forgiven him.
Adam Thompson was still relatively new to Rotherham United after his summer move from Bury but was already making his presence felt at the club’s Roundwood complex.
Once of many things that can earn a player a fine at the training ground is too many people in the medical room at any one time.
Four is the maximum allowed and one day Thompson hid himself away in there and waited for Ihiekwe to innocently wander in and become an unwitting fifth.
That was then, when the defender was struggling with a leg problem picked up soon after his arrival and the only playing he could do was for laughs.
Now, the 27-year-old’s impact is coming on the pitch. Rotherham are top of League One and Thompson’s performances since just after Christmas at right-back have played a big part in their rise.
“Thommo came in, got injured and then became the forgotten man,” said manager Paul Warne of the man who didn’t get to make his debut until November.
“To get injured after pre-season is the biggest kick to the stomach. You’ve done all the work in the summer but then you’ve got to get fit again and then match-fit.
“Then you’ve got to get yourself in front of the manager, then sort of hope the team don’t play that well but still win and then hope the manager will turn to you.
“There’s a lot of hoping! It’s exhausting for players when they are trying to get back in.”
The Northern Ireland international, signed as a centre-half who could offer right-back cover, impressed in his first appearance in central defence, in a 3-1 FA Cup win at Maidenhead United, but then struggled against the physicality of Lincoln City giant John Akinde as Rotherham slipped to a 3-0 EFL Trophy defeat in his next outing.
After two experiments with three centre-halves, in the 4-3 FA Cup triumph at Solihull Moors and the 2-2 home league draw with Fleetwood Town, he was picked at right-back for the Boxing Day league trip to Shrewsbury Town.
The 97th minute, Michael Smith’s header, a certain blond-haired full-back supplying the killer final ball, 2-1, the Millers on the march.
Since then, Thompson has started every match on the right flank — except for three when he was suspended — and has yet to finish on the losing side in the league.
“I like him at right-back,” said Warne. “He gives us a bit of strength and solidity there. He is a steadying ship. We play 4-4-2 and having a strong back four allows the front six to go forward more.
“I have a lot of respect for him. He’s a good kid.”
The former Watford trainee’s form has allowed young Matt Olosunde to be rested or play elsewhere and Warne added: “Thommo is more experienced than Matt.
“Matt Has been excellent but he’s played loads and loads of games in his first season in senior football.”
After coming through the Hornets’ youth system and winning two international caps, Harlow-born Thompson went on to make his name with Southend United before moving to Bury and winning League Two promotion last season before the Shakers’ ejection from the Football League.
He played in the Championship with Watford but most of his 250-plus career appearances have come in League One and League Two.
Right-back suits a composed operator who is comfortable on the ball, delivers a good cross, is decent in the air and puts everything — sometimes too much — into a tackle.
And he has another quality which is putting Rotherham in with a good shout of promotion.
“He’s done really well there,” said skipper and centre-half Richard Wood. “He’s loud and communicates very well. That’s a massive part of football, especially at the back.
“Everybody needs to be vocal. As a unit, our back five need to be organised and strong. He has been as solid as a rock. He’s hardly put a foot wrong. It’s working well.”
Back to earlier in the campaign and Thompson plotted his Icky wind-up with meticulous precision.
He chose the furthest corner from the door as his preferred spot, then concealed himself under a bunch of white towels specifically selected because they offered the best camouflage against the white walls.
Whenever the subject of the scam crops up at Roundwood, Ihiekwe can’t hide his annoyance.
“Stitched up,” he mutters. “Stitched up.”
“Thommo is a great lad in the dressing room,” said Wood, overseer of the fines and keeper of the payment book. “He’s a funny character, good to have around the place.
“He’s one of the main lads in the dressing room on the banter side of things, then he goes out on the pitch and he changes his mentality completely.
“He becomes very focused and is a loud organiser, which is exactly what you want.”
It was tough for Thompson in the beginning. He made the bench for a handful of games but an injury when his ligament came away from the bone in his leg during an innocuous training-ground incident halted any prospect of him forcing his way into the team.
The more the other summer arrivals gelled, the less chance there was of him being anything other than a squad man.
“It’s a hard one,” Warne said. “We’re so close to our players. They get how we play and they understand it.
“I tell new signings that they are going to have to fight tooth and nail to get into the side. They’re like ‘’Yeah, yeah, yeah, I back myself’ because they have to be like that.
“But when they get in the building they think ‘It’s a bit harder than I thought’. It’s happened with virtually all of our signings.
“The fact that he’s got in after his injury setback is credit to him.
“His performances have deserved him being in the starting 11.”
Thompson, who trained briefly with Bolton Wanderers in between leaving Bury and joining Rotherham, has twin aims with the Millers.
He wants another taste of the second tier and, even though he hasn’t played for Northern Ireland for nine years, isn’t giving up hope of wearing the green jersey again.
“With the infrastructure, facilities. squad and manager here, everything is in place to be a regular Championship team,” he said.
“Rotherham have floated between the Championship and League One recently. The Championship is where I would like to get to.
“I played every game in League Two last year but you struggle to get a look-in international-wise at that level.
“At the top end of League One, you are hoping to catch the eye of the international manager.”
A red card stopped him in his tracks when his industrial lunge in the FA Cup against Hull City split Keane Lewis-Thompson more emphatically than the hyphen and he missed wins against Oxford United and Bristol Rovers and the defeat at Peterborough United.
Tellingly, as soon as his ban was over, he was brought straight back into the side for victories over Ipswich Town, Burton Albion and Lincoln City and last weekend’s draw with AFC Wimbledon.
“I liked it when Thommo was in the team before he got suspended,” Warne said.
“He gave us a little bit more mettle, and he’s been the same since he came back in.”
The centre-half who could play at right-back is now indisputably the first-choice right-back who can fill in at centre-half.
Thompson feels at home in the Millers side and also away from the club, living in a sought-after spot in Wickersley where he counts teammates Olosunde, Trevor Clarke, Freddie Ladapo and Hakeeb Adelakun as neighbours
“It is a lovely little area,” he said. “Five of us are living next door to each other and it is good to be settled in and have that togetherness with the lads.”
Sometimes they all congregate in one of their apartments for shared company and a meal.
Sadly for Ihiekwe, £20 light and still complaining, there’s no ‘four only’ rule here.
THOMMO AS A LEAGUE ONE MILLERS RIGHT-BACK
Shrewsbury 1 Millers 2, Dec 26
Millers 4 Peterborough 0, Dec 29
Millers 2 Blackpool 1, Jan 1
Millers 1 Ipswich 0, Jan 28
Millers 3 Burton 2, Feb 1
Lincoln 0 Millers 1, Feb 7
Millers 2 Wimbledon 2, Feb 15