D3D4 Rotherham United Correspondent Ian Bradley tells us why he feels optimistic about the season ahead…
In the middle of last season when Kenny Jackett decided he didn’t want a relegation on his CV & walked out on Rotherham United, chairman Tony Stewart appointed fitness coach Paul Warne as caretaker Manager while the club searched for a new boss, or so we Millers fans thought.
Results continued to be bad with defeat after defeat & Warne looking out of his dept. Then after six weeks as caretaker the bombshell, Stewart appointed Warne as permanent manager!!
Social media & Millers forums went into meltdown….
“what coaching badges has he got?”,
” Tony Stewart has gone for the cheap option”
These were some of the cleaner responses to the news.
Results continued to be poor & we were the first club to be mathematically relegated in early April after a 1-0 home defeat to Fulham. Some Millers fans, myself included, were preparing ourselves for another possibly unsuccessful relegation fight in 2017/18 but Mr Warne was slowly but surely making his personal mark on the Millers playing squad.
Out went some of the underperforming players on ridiculous salaries, Halford, Camp, Danny Ward, Blackstock, Smallwood etc & they were replaced by a combination of young hungry players (Ben Purrington (Plymouth), Alex Bray(Swansea), Michael Ihiekwe (Tranmere), Semi Ajayi (Cardiff), Manny Onariase (Brentford) to name but a few along with loanees Richie Towell (Brighton) Josh Emmanuel & Kieffer Moore (Ipswich) to blend with our more experienced core players already at the club ( Frecklington, Taylor, Mattock, Newell etc).
Warne also had the good sense to bring in more experienced players to compliment the youth in the squad (Shaun Cummings from Millwall, Darren Potter from MK Dons, Keeper Richard O’Donnell from Bristol City) & forward David Ball from Fleetwood).
I along with most Millers followers felt seriously underwhelmed by Warne’s transfer business & entered the new season with as much trepidation as hope.
Early season results seemed to confirm our fears with a poor display & a 2-0 defeat at the seaside at Fleetwood before an improved but still mistake laden 2-1 Carabao Cup win at NYS over Lincoln. The manager urged fans to get behind his new look Millers in the programme for our next home game & we were rewarded with a scintillating performance in a 5-0 rout against pre-season promotion favourites Southend. A good performance but unlucky 2-1 defeat at Peterborough followed. Another good showing but a 2-1 defeat at Huddersfield saw us bow out of the Carabao Cup at the second hurdle before last season’s defensive frailties seemed to return in a poor 2-0 home defeat by Charlton & the season of struggle prediction of most Millers fans seemed to be correct, especially as our next League game was facing buoyant, promoted Pompey at Fratton Park in a Sunday afternoon Sky TV fixture.
In my opinion this is when our lads became men. A fine attacking first half performance along with some heroic last ditch defending saw us come away with a 1-0 win which was our first away victory for 29 matches, the longest winless away run in the clubs history, but with two home games in four days, first Bury and then Walsall, could Warne’s new side continue their improvement?
Bury came to NYS for a point & got 11 men behind the ball whenever they could. Rotherham attacked at will for 80% of the game, got in front twice but twice got caught out as they tried to extend their lead but an 88th minute screamer from Towell saw us get over the line in a 3-2 win. Could we make it three wins on the bounce for the first time in ages?? You bet!!
Walsall came to NYS with a reputation for attacking football & in “Turkish Messi” Erhan Oztumer, had one of the division’s more consistently high quality performers but on this occasion he never got a kick, was substituted after a hour & looked on as the Millers overran their opponents in a fine 5-1 win which included a hat trick from captain Frecklington.
Well that’s our season so far in a nutshell. Am I like some Millers fans & expecting an immediate return to the second tier? No, we are some way off that standard yet but Warne is starting to find his feet, he seems to have assembled a good experienced backroom staff who “coincidentally” happen to be ex Rotherham players, Richie Barker Assistant Manager, Mike Pollitt Goalkeeping coach, Matt Hamshaw Coach. I still think a solid mid table finish would be a small success while we continue to build after three groundhog seasons of Championship struggles.
words Ian Bradley D3D4 Rotherham United Correspondent
follow Ian on twitter @millmoor1