The man with the hoover shows why Rotherham United have been sweeping to the top of the table

Kyle VassellKyle Vassell
Kyle Vassell
THERE he was, the two-goal match-winner of the previous weekend doing a spot of hoovering on the Monday morning.

Kyle Vassell had shot Rotherham United to the top of League One with his double salvo at Oxford United but now he was back at the club’s Roundwood training complex and that canteen floor wasn’t going to clean itself.

The striker found the vacuum cleaner and started sweeping.

This is one of the reasons why the Millers find themselves at the summit. Vassell was demonstrating everything they stand for: humility, team work, hard work, no task too big, no job too small.

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“It helps when you’re in first place and Vass has scored a couple,” manager Paul Warne grinned. “I don’t know if we were bottom and Vass was on the bench whether he’d be hoovering. I like to think he would.

“The players are good lads. I say this all the time and some people like it and some people don’t: I try to sign good people and we try to make them better people and better footballers.”

Pole position was achieved suddenly yet had been a long time coming. Bit by bit, game by game, after last season’s relegation and a summer of squad transformation, Rotherham had been threatening.

Only home results had been holding them back. Until they exploded over Christmas.

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“We were midtable for the first ten games so,” said Warne. “The league takes a while to settle down. It also takes time to get your ideas into new minds.

“Our away form was keeping us in a higher position than our overall play probably deserved. Now our home form has improved.

“We have one of the best away records in all four divisions. Liverpool’s will be better than ours and I presume West Brom’s is. That’s probably about it.”

Nearly right. Ipswich Town’s is also slightly superior by virtue of them having played more games but the boss’s point is made.

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The festive period and matches since have brought challenges against teams with play-off aspirations and the Millers have knocked down their rivals one after the other.

Shrewsbury Town away, Peterborough United at AESSEAL New York Stadium, Blackpool also at New York, Oxford on the U’s’ own patch and Bristol Rovers at home have all been toppled as Rotherham have made it five successive league victories in an unbeaten league run now stretching to seven fixtures.

“I think we’ve had the rub of the green over the last few games,” said Warne who was being too modest.

“This league is so tight that everyone takes points off everyone. Back-to-back wins shoot you up the table.

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“Even the best teams average only 1.6/1.7 points a game so if you’re averaging more than two — as we have been — you’re always going to jump the league.

“It helped having so many games in quick succession. People have gone: ‘Oh my god, Rotherham are suddenly top.’ Had the wins come over the whole of January it would have seemed like a slower progression.”

Meanwhile, back at the training HQ Vassell was completing his domestic duties with a touch as deft as the one that had seen him put his team 2-0 ahead with a perfect lob in the 3-1 triumph at the Kassam Stadium two days earlier.

Next up was skipper Richard Wood who busied himself in the adjoining kitchen, helping out Roundwood cook Carol by washing and drying a few pots.

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“Why should it be my staff hoovering up if someone has made a mess?” Warne said. “You should clear your own mess up.

“There’s also the fact that if there is a mess the lads all get fined. That keeps them on their toes!

“They are all really good lads which is why I am possibly over-protective of them at times. They all try to give their best.

“Vass scored a couple the other weekend and was excellent but that was eclipsed by the standard of his cleaning!”

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There have been many factors behind the Millers’ rise. The hot-shot with the hoover has come good since being given the centre-forward role he craved, winger Chiedozie Ogbene’s speed has been unplayable, 4-4-2 has worked better than 4-3-3 and 4-4-1-1 and Michael Ihiekwe has developed into a centre-half as classy, committed and commanding as any in the division.

But, mainly, it’s been about a talented team growing and coming together.

Rotherham are League One’s highest scorers, they have the best goal difference, they top the stats for set-play effectiveness and only Ipswich Town, the U’s, Sunderland, Doncaster Rovers and Gillingham have better defensive records.

The emergence of central midfielder Dan Barlaser as the league’s most outstanding string-puller and set-piece-taker — and his partnership with Matt Crooks — has provided the final missing link.

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Oxford came to New York back in October and deservedly won 2-1. “They’re a few months ahead of us in their development,” Warne, still moulding his squad after 17 departures and 12 arrivals, said at the time.

Contrast that with events 13 days ago when the U’s were dismantled in a first-half fury brimming with pace, power, physicality, pressing and relentless front-running that was so irresistible it messed with manager Karl Robinson’s mind.

“We’ve shown we’re probably a better team than them,” he claimed to widespread agreement from absolutely nobody.

The Millers may have been locked out when they pulled up at the Kassam Stadium before kick-off but this was the day they truly arrived.

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“Since the end of November, beginning of December, it’s felt more like our team,” Warne said. “We were having some outstanding performances but not consistently.

“I think a lot of the lads have just hit really good form together. They’re playing to the system. Everyone knows what they’ve got to do. We are more open but we are more attacking.

“When you’re top, you are there to be shot down. The teams who are second, third and fourth are desperate to be in first place. Every side looks for your result when they come in.

“There is so long still to go. All we have done so far is set ourselves up for a good opportunity in the second half of the season.

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“I’m not moaning about it. I love being top. However, it does come with an extra pressure.”

The boss will allow no complacency but he likes what he’s seeing.

“I think we have clicked a little bit,” he said.

Maybe he was talking about the noise Vassell made when he plugged in the hoover.



MANAGER Paul Warne admits it has taken him a while to fall in love with his Rotherham United class of 2019/20.

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The Millers boss compares last summer’s break-up of the squad that won promotion from League One in 2018 and then fought so bravely to stay in the Championship to the painful end of a relationship.

Only now, six months into the third-tier campaign and with his new side top of the table, is he finding romance again.

Warne took Rotherham straight back into the Championship after they had been relegated in 2017.

Here’s what he has to say about trying to repeat the feat two years on.

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“It was difficult after relegation the first time because we had to change the whole culture of the club.

Paul Warne

“This time we didn’t need a culture change. The biggest problem has been the player turnover. We didn’t have a massive player turnaround the last time we went up to the Champ. This time loads of players have left and arrived.

“The best analogy I can give is that it was a bit like me going out with a girl I idolised and then she dumped me. Then I had to find myself another girlfriend. The next one was all right but I wasn’t really having it.

“When I lost all my wingers in the summer it was hard for me to sign new ones because they weren’t as good as the ones I’d lost. I was devastated.

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“That’s why we started the season with a 4-3-3 system and no wingers. I couldn’t get over the heartbreak.

“Fortunately, before the window closed we managed to get a couple in. As the season has gone on, all the new lads have ‘got it’.

“It takes players who come here from somewhere else a bit of time to do that because we’re a bit ‘quirkier’ than most clubs. We demand a lot physically from our players, more than might be demanded at some other places.

“There is also a different football culture. Brentford, for example, are flying in the Champ but the way they play and the way we play aren’t the same. There aren’t many of our players who would be top of Brentford’s shopping list and vice versa. There’s nothing wrong with that.

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“We’ve had to get Chieo (winger Chiedozie Ogbene) to just stay out wide and run, not do a trick or come inside. All the things like that take a bit of time.

“Also, because we got promoted at the first time of asking last time I think some of our fans thought: ‘Well, this is all right. We’ll just bounce straight back up.’

“The first time, people were saying: ‘As long as we don’t go straight down again I’ll be pleased.’

“There is more expectation this time and that has made it a harder challenge. It still is a challenge. There are 18 games left. We might fail and then you might be interviewing someone else in this seat. I get that.

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“The hardest thing to do is to get our mindset into the new players.

“What is acceptable and not acceptable at other clubs is different here. It takes ages to do.

“Every week, we have the same team meetings, the same debrief, the same structure of meeting before every game.

“Before the last game, I went through the out-of-possession and the in-possession stuff. The lads know the answers now. I don’t have to write it down anymore.

“For the first ten weeks or so they don’t know it. You just keep trying to filter bits of information into them. With football management as it is today you don’t normally get that time.”