The moment Rotherham United boss Matt Taylor knew he was getting it right with centre-half Cameron Humphreys
THE player hit a 50:50 with such ferocity and sweet timing that it immediately became the leading contender for Tackle of the Season.
The manager had always been aware that the richly talented former Manchester City youngster was good on the ball; what he’d been less sure of until then was that the 24-year-old was capable of such thumping, thou-shalt-not-pass belligerence.
Humphreys’ shuddering March 4 challenge at AESSEAL New York Stadium on Jamal Lowe shook the Queens Park Rangers dangerman to his core.
It was just what Taylor wanted to see. He said: “I tell Cam every single day: ‘Be the best defender you can be. Defend first and foremost.’ I say that to him because I know he can play football and he knows he can play football.
“Players with his capabilities and attributes can sometimes have the wrong intent as a defender. They think about control and decision-making and passing and skill first as opposed to the actual foundation on which their game should be built.
“Cam has shown that foundation in recent weeks. And then he can still play football.”
Humphreys, who used to train with City’s first team under the eye of Pep Guardiola, joined the Millers in the summer after three seasons in the Belgian top flight with Zulte Waregem and has made 32 appearances so far this term.
He was hampered by hamstring injuries earlier in the campaign but has been an ever-present in Taylor’s side since December 17 and has become a crucial presence in the club’s push for Championship safety.
In a run of 17 straight matches on the left side of the rearguard he has been arguably Rotherham’s most consistent performer.
“He’s been a mainstay of the defence,” Taylor said. “He adds really good ‘legs’ into that backline, and he’s improving his aerial capacity.
“Very rarely does he get done on the turn or on the run. His mobility is key, and he can step in when needed.”
The Manchester-born player, whom the Millers signed on a three-year deal, is still a baby in centre-half terms and his manager predicts there is even more to come from someone who has represented England up to under-19 level.
“He’s young, and I really like working with young players who want to improve,” Taylor said. “His potential is huge.
“He’s not 6ft 3in tall and the usual profile of a centre-half but he doesn’t get beaten up in the air. He’s someone we’re looking to add layers to. We’re delighted to have him here.”
Meanwhile, the tackle ... it came in the penalty area at the kop end and there was absolutely no margin for error from the Rotherham man as his opponent bore down on goal while the home team were protecting a 1-0 lead.
The thud of the impact echoed around New York and Lowe flew high before landing in a beaten heap on the New York turf.
After that crunching, crucial intervention, the Millers went on to triumph 3-1.
“It was a one-v-one confrontation that he had to get right,” Taylor said. “He took ball and man and it felt almost as big as a goal. It really got the crowd up. They certainly appreciated it.”
Somewhere in the West Stand a certain Richard Wood was joining in the applause.
CAMERON Humphreys has shone for his new club no matter what formation Rotherham United have adopted.
Following his move back to England from the continent, the centre-half started out on a 3-5-2 system and has also impressed in a 4-3-3 set-up.
“In Belgium we played with a three throughout my time there,” he said. “I hadn’t actually played in a four for a few seasons until we deployed it recently.
“I do feel comfortable in a four and I feel like it is my preference, although I’m happy to do a job in any position. Ultimately, it’s the manager’s call and we’re all behind what he decides.
“Playing in a three allows the outside centre-backs to be more attacking, whereas in a four you have to be a little more positionally disciplined. It is good that we have the ability to utilise both and I think it will help us between now and the end of the season.”
After playing in Belgium for three years, the defender was seeking an EFL side when the Millers offered him the chance to prove himself in the Championship last pre-season.
He first met up with his new teammates while they were on their boot camp in Croatia when Paul Warne was still the manager.
“It was an opportunity to come home and I’m glad I took it,” he said. “I enjoyed my time in Belgium and it was a fantastic experience, but I do feel a lot more settled here.
“The style of football over there wasn’t too different to what it is here. They are both physical leagues with a variety of different types of players.”
With eight matches left to play, Humphreys is backing Rotherham to win their battle to retain their second-tier status.
“The atmosphere is really positive and has been all season, to be fair,” he said. “We’re all looking forward to seeing what we can achieve.
“Things are going well for me at the moment. I’m playing week in, week out and that was what I wanted when I was looking for a club in the summer.”