Part ‘Getting to know…’ guide, part build-up, let’s go over our opening day opponents and fellow promotees.
Ground: New York Stadium (since 1905, capacity 12,021)
Second tier seasons: 27
Major honours: N/A
Last season: 2nd in League One
Rotherham came in for the same kind of flak as Wycombe back in the spring (well, to be honest, they’re probably still taking it) for having the audacity to be one of the best teams in the division. Promoted by a mere 0.03 points per game – ahead The Magic Number of 1.74 – they had been slow starters but took 30 points from a possible 45 from Boxing Day until the suspension of the season. The set-piece kings in League One, they scored ten more goals (25) from dead ball situations than even us, posting a set-piece xG of a whopping 0.7 per game!
The gaffer: Paul Warne
Appointed: January 2017
Previously managed: N/A
Played for: Rotherham (2 spells), Yeovil, Oldham, Mansfield, Kettering Town, Wigan, Wroxham, Diss Town, Great Yarmouth Town
Rotherham league record:
Warne initially took over as caretaker following Kenny Jackett’s resignation in November 2016, before becoming interim manager in the New Year and being handed the reins on a more permanent basis after the Millers’ relegation to League One had been confirmed that April. The second longest-serving boss in the Championship, Rotherham’s faith in a club legend has been a key factor in their continued improvement despite yo-yo-ing between the second and third tiers. There are parallels with another Championship club…
In what doubles up as The Opposition View for Saturday’s opener, Ian Bradley mulls over the Millers for us.
Rotherham have yo-yoed back into the Championship again. Staying up this season would make it third time luck. Do you think you’re better prepared than you were last time when you only went down by four points? We seem to have a recent reputation of being too good for League One but not quite good enough for the Championship, which in truth is well founded. The gulf between the two divisions is enormous. In the third tier, you are competing in the main with similarly sized clubs in terms of crowds, budgets etc. – although there are exceptions (Sunderland, Ipswich and Portsmouth) – whereas in the Championship, you are trying to compete with the likes of Forest, Norwich, Derby etc., – massive clubs with massive crowds and playing budgets to match, and that’s not taking into account half the division getting the frankly unfair Premier League parachute payments.
However, as a Millers fan, I do feel more confident in survival this time around as we possess a squad with some very promising young players with the hunger and desire to improve alongside more experienced older players that have been in similar situations before – important squad members who, even if they are not in the starting 11 every week, are willing to impart their experiences to the younger guys. We demonstrated on many occasions in 2019/20 that this bunch of players are up for a fight, having come from behind to take valuable points on several occasions. The team spirit and togetherness Warne and his staff rightly pride themselves on is there in spades. We’ll surprise a lot of clubs; of that I’m sure.
Longer term, if you do manage to stay up this time, is the club well set up to establish itself in the Championship? You definitely seem like a very well run club. Our longer term ambition is to try and establish ourselves as a second tier club, but as the Chairboys will find out, that is easier said than done.
In our last season in the Championship, we had an average home attendance of 9,700. That represented around 80% of our capacity, but we were the club with the lowest average attendance.
When our stadium was built in 2012, the foundation to increase our capacity to close to 20,000 was put in place, but for our chairman to give the go-ahead for the improvements to take place, the team would have to show positive signs of establishing itself in the second tier over a few seasons – but the same chairman has imposed a salary cap that he won’t break, meaning we do miss out on some of the more proven Championship players. This is by no means a criticism of our chairman as we are one of the few EFL clubs, especially in the top 25, that isn’t heavily in debt and, as you commented, we are run very well. Many clubs have almost bankrupted themselves chasing success, but surely having a club to support in the first place is more important than anything else. It’s a catch 22 situation, but it’s never dull in these parts.
Your transfer business so far has been pretty impressive. What are your thoughts on the new signings and where do you still need to strengthen/add depth? We still have the nucleus of last season’s successful squad but seem to have added some much needed experience alongside youthful exuberance.
Goalkeeper Daniel Iversen was a vital last line of defence in last year’s squad and needed replacing after his successful loan period from Leicester came to an end. Fans started to worry about starting the season with the experienced but unreliable Lewis Price as number 1, but Warne seems to have pulled another rabbit out of the hat with the season-long loan capture of Jamal Blackman, who got plenty of Championship experience with Sheffield United a couple of seasons ago.
Experienced defensive duo Angus MacDonald and Wes Harding have arrived from Hull and Birmingham respectively. Both having a lot of Championship experience and will provide competition for regulars like Michael Ihiekwe, Curtis Tilt, Adam Thompson and Richard Wood.
Left winger Mikel Miller [quality nominative determinism!] was our first pre-season signing – joining from Hamilton Academical having won their player of the season award – while the capture of Doncaster’s player of the season, Kieran Sadlier, has caught Millers fans’ attention more than any other signing. He was almost unplayable for Rovers at times last season and can be utilised on either flank or in an attacking midfield or second striker role.
Left-back cover for the aging but still solid Joe Mattock is a concern with only inexperienced Trevor Clarke as cover, and I’d be happier if we could get another defensive midfielder in as we only have Shaun McDonald as a specialist – although Ben Wiles can operate there. But so far, it’s been very good in terms of recruitment.
Who from last season’s squad would you expect to have the biggest impact at this level? How valuable will the experience of the likes of Joe Mattock and Michael Smith – the latter of whom played the whole of your last Championship campaign – be? As I have already touched on, we will rely heavily on our more experienced players, especially the ones that have played regularly in the Championship before: Mattock, Matt Crooks, Ihiekwe, Wood, Smith etc. Alongside the hungry younger players, their know-how will be invaluable and I truly believe they have become better players since our last relegation. It will be another bumpy ride – of that I’m sure – but one I’m optimistic about and looking forward to.
Finally, just how much does Paul Warne mean to Rotherham fans and how important has it been for him to stay throughout this up and down journey? You don’t need to tell Wycombe fans what a bit of stability can do with time! As at any club, you get fans who can’t get it into their heads why their club aren’t ten points clear at the top of the league by the end of October and it’s all the manager’s fault – but thank heavens they’re in the minority at our club.
Warne is quite simply loved here. He lives and breathes RUFC. He played here, coached here, and now he’s the gaffer. He’s great and fiercely protective of his staff and players, great with the fans, and very welcoming and approachable – and although it has taken time, he has finally got his squad the way he likes it playing his style of direct, in-your-face football with wingers, an effective target man, quick and clever midfielders, a solid defence, and set-piece expertise. The future of my club is secure with our manager supplemented by a supportive board and chairman.
Since Steve Evans’ acrimonious departure in 2015, we went through managers at an alarming rate (Redfearn, Stubbs, Warnock etc.) until Warne reluctantly took the reins. The rest is history. Continuity is vital to success in my opition; that’s why I’m so glad Tony Stewart [chairman] didn’t get trigger-happy following our last relegation.
Last season’s trip to the New York Stadium saw Wanderers produce a defensive masterclass in a 1-0 win settled by Scott Kashket’s early strike. The sides have met 17 times in all – all in the league – and we’re unbeaten in nine, a run stretching back to March 2001. Rotherham’s last trip to Adams Park in March 2013 ended all square at 2-2, Joel Grant and Gary Doherty scoring for the Blues.
Did you know…?
Rotherham United were formed by the merger of Rotherham County and Rotherham Town, the latter of whom were the town’s first League club, playing as high as the Second Divison.
Header photo: Dom Fellowes via Wikimedia Commons
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