As it stands: Rotherham 13-6–3–4 (9th, 21 pts, GD 9) | Wycombe 14-7–6–1 (3rd, 27 pts, GD 9)
Form: Rotherham LWWLW | Wycombe WWDWD
Last time out: Ipswich 0-2 Rotherham | Blackpool 1-1 Wycombe
Head-to-head: P16 | Rotherham W4 | Wycombe W6 | D6
Previous meeting: Wycombe 2-2 Rotherham (12/03/13, League Two)
Coming into the Game
With six wins from these sides’ combined last ten games, this is one of the form clashes in the division this weekend. After a second relegation to League One in in three years, Rotherham are becoming a yo-yo club, and they’ve made an up and down start to 2019/20 – not least at home, where they’ve won two, drawn two and lost two so far. On their day, they can be ruthless – as (post-takeover) Bolton and Coventry found out in 6-1 and 4-0 thrashings respectively – but there are worse places to go in search of our second away win since April, one which could take us back to the summit. We’ve had the benefit of an extra 24 hours of preparation, but the Millers will be in high spirits after their triumph at Portman Road on Wednesday night (where they truly battered Ipswich, by the way). Then again, so will we after yesterday’s feverishly anticipated news. Welcome, Couhigs! 😊
Last season: 22nd in Championship (relegated)
Manager: Paul Warne (appointed November 2016)
Top scorer: Matt Crooks (CM/AM) – 4
Most assists: Ben Wiles (CM/AM), Jamie Lindsay (CM), Matt Olosunde (RB), Michael Smith (ST) – all 4
Style of play: Direct but possession-based, aggressive, heavy on crosses*
*Most accurate crosses per 90 minutes (6.5) in League One (via WhoScored.com)
STAR PLAYER: MICHAEL IHIEKWE (CB) | Believe it or not, there are players in the third tier who can give the Beast a run for his money in the air. The 26-year-old centre-half is one of them, averaging 7.5 aerial wins per 90. His partner Richard Wood may wear the captain’s armband, but Ihiewke is an undeniably commanding presence in the heart of the Millers’ back four. Unsurprisingly, he’s handy at the other end too, nodding in under pressure at home to Oxford last Saturday and almost doubling his tally for the season in the week. Having spent the first half of 2018/19 on loan at Accrington – where he played in our 2-1 win at the Wham Stadium – he made 15 appearances and scored twice as Rotherham came close to Championship survival.
Akinfenwa v Ihiekwe
Ok, so it’s not quite the Rumble in the Jungle, but these two should cause each other plenty of bother on the Rother. Bayo averages 11.9 aerial successes per 90 to Ihiekwe’s 7.5. I know what you’re thinking: we went direct against AFC Wimbledon and it didn’t work – and you’d be right, but it’s worth noting that, unlike the Dons, Rotherham don’t boast quite the same aerial prowess elsewhere in their back line. Could we aim to use the the big man to occupy Ihiekwe and leave David Wheeler more free (or vice versa)? Quite possibly. It’s also worth noting that striker Michael Smith sits in the uppermost echelon of League One headers – winning 11 per 90 (compared to the Bayo’s 12). even if he’s yet to score with his noggin. One thing’s fairly certain, though: the Millers’ ground staff shouldn’t have to worry too much about pitch wear.
A Goal-Fest on the Cards?
It’s sixth v fourth in terms of goals scored, and Rotherham’s home games have averaged exactly three goals – in fact, there’s only been one 0-0 in the last 77 games at the New York Stadium (to which this will be just our second visit). That said, it’s also joint second v joint fourth for goals conceded, and we’ve only managed five goals in six away matches, failing to score in three of them. The general offensive numbers are promising, though: 21 and 23 in the respective ‘Goals For’ columns, and 1.52 and 1.45 xG per game. The direct Millers have come unstuck on their own patch against teams who’ve dug in and tried to disrupt their rhythm – Tranmere and Shrewsbury each left South Yorkshire with a point by doing so – and we know we excel at that *braces self for angry mob of Plymouth fans* – but we’ve also had our own shortcomings exposed – such as our weakness in dealing with second balls – against the similarly direct style of Accrington. However… Paul Warne’s men like to play offside, which ought to suit the pace and deception of Rolando Aarons, who’s bound to make his second league start for the Blues. All things considered, there’s every chance of a couple of goals at either end – but there’s also every chance of our not entirely different styles cancelling each other out. Score draw or bore draw, and in spite of our opponents’ not yet convincing home form, a point is not to be sniffed at.
The Four Trials of October
Ok, three in the end, but this was still going to be a month of gladiatoral challenges. Two down, one to go – and four points already in the bag. That Tuesday night’s draw at Blackpool was our worst performance of the month says everything about how impressively we’ve mixed it with some of the best in the division (yes, even Sunderland). We don’t even have to get anything from this game to prove that we have the staying power to sustain a play-off push, but every eye-catching result silences a smattering more of lingering doubters. Our miserable away record aside, there’s no reason to believe we can’t go up the M1 and retrieve another three points (towards that 50 mark, of course…). Do so and the mood at next Saturday’s home meeting with Shrewsbury will be even more ebullient.
Assuming no one’s emerged significantly worse for wear, it’s perfectly feasible that Paul Warne will go with the side which started that convincing midweek victory in Suffolk – which featured three changes from the previous game. Leicester loanee Daniel Iversen is an exciting prospect, while the aforementioned Olosunde – who has played on the right of midfield as well as at right-back – has lit up his own loan spell from Man United, proving to be a threat on the ball and at winning it back. Having scored three apiece so far, ex-Plymouth forward Freddie Ladapo and on-loan Rangers winger Jake Hastie can justifiably be considered danger man, yet both could well find themselves on the bench, such is the Millers’ depth.
The back four should revert to type as Darius Charles returns follow his brief foray into commentary, with just a slim possibility that Gareth may opt for Jamie Mascoll to combat Olosunde’s exceptional athleticism. Bayo has looked like he could do with a rest for the last two games, but it’s almost impossible to see him being left out of this one, and at least he’s had a few days to recover from his exertions up at Bloomfield Road. Unless Fred Onyedinma is available again and 100%, Aarons – who’s probably just about there himself now should come in – for Scott Kashket.
In the Middle: Neil Hair
Before you ask, yes, he has hair. This will be the Peterborough official’s tenth appointment of the season. It will also be only his 14th League One fixture since stepping up to the EFL in the summer of 2018. He took charge of our 3-2 loss at Walsall last October – when he awarded us a late penalty – but has yet to take charge of any game involving Rotherham. He’s shown 23 yellows and one red so far in 2019/20, pointing to the spot twice.