Ajayi out to stop dangerman Dack: Rotherham United v Blackburn Rovers preview
ROTHERHAM United's Semi Ajayi has given old pal Bradley Dack the silent treatment this week as the old pals prepare for their reunion at AESSEAL New York Stadium.
The pair of them have them have been chums since they were under-tens in the Charlton Athletic youth set-up more than 15 years ago.
"It's me and my mate, Bradley!" Ajayi said. "We're still in touch. We speak every now and then.
"There will be no taking between us before Saturday. Nah, nah, nah. Definitely not. Not until we get on to the pitch to play against each other."
Things could get up close and personal as Rotherham look for the points that could lift them out of the bottom three.
Ajayi was detailed to stick to dangerman Dack in midfield when the two teams fought out a 1-1 draw at Ewood Park last November and he kept Rovers' top scorer quiet for most of the game.
It was only when boss Paul Warne switched the holding midfielder to right-back in the closing stages that Dack started to see plenty of the ball and eventually scored the equaliser that cancelled out Michael Smith's Millers opener.
"The last time we faced each other, I had to do a job on him," Ajayi recalled. "I was man-marking him. I was literally following him around for about 70 minutes until I got moved to right-back.
"It will be good to see him again. Hopefully we can get the three points this time.
"I don't know if it will be a man-marking job for me again. That's down the manager. But I relish any challenge."
Ajayi made his name with Rotherham as a central defender but has been given a midfield role by Warne in recent games.
"At heart, I'm a centre-half who can play in midfield, not the other way round," the player insisted.
"I'm willing to do a job wherever I'm asked to. Whether the manager wants me in midfield, in central defence or at right-back, I'm happy to do a job to help the team pick up points."
The Millers, fresh last weekend's 1-1 draw at safety rivals Reading last weekend, are unbeaten in five outings and their commitment and famed team spirit is seeing them defy the odds to remain in the thick of the survival mix.
"We're a really tight, close-knit bunch," Ajayi, a scorer at the Madejski Stadium, said. "I think it shows on the pitch that everyone is prepared to run through a brick wall for each other, run into tackles and put their heads where it hurts.
"It's getting us results and long may it continue. It's inspiring when you see your teammates giving 100 per cent. It means you can't give anything less than that yourself.
"Staying up would be a great achievement but there is no point in looking that far ahead. My focus now is on only the game against Blackburn."
Rotherham, in 22nd spot, fell behind in the first half at Reading against the side above them in the table only on goal difference but Ajayi was on hand in the 80th minute to earn his side a precious point.
"It could be a very important goal for us," he reflected. "It keeps the momentum going, it keeps the unbeaten run going and it stopped Reading from getting three points and pulling away from us. We go into the next match full of confidence.
"Confidence is everything. We're picking up points. If we keep doing that to the end of the season, we'll be fine.
"I wouldn't say we had to get something but obviously it was a very important game. We're level on points with Reading and we didn't want to be giving them a leg up. There are 12 games left and the season is far from over. We're really glad we got the point.
"There was a lot of pressure in the second half but I think this team thrives on that. There have been a lot of times this season when our backs have been against the wall and we've always come out fighting. Last Saturday was just another example of that."
Rotherham have drawn their last five matches while Blackburn, who were in play-off contention a month ago, lost four times and drew once in a disastrous February.
Dack has bagged 14 goals this season and Ajayi, after his self-imposed quiet time, knows what he has to do.
Friend becomes foe in the battle of the 25-year-olds and a blank for Bradley would give the Millers man the final word.
This article first appeared in the Advertiser