League One Club-by-Club Preview for 2017/2018: Rotherham United

Best Blog or Account to Follow: Holly Hunt on Twitter is a Millers fan with a good understanding of the club and the malaise that has surrounded it. She works as a media officer for Worksop Town and has a keen interest in the non-league as a whole.


Record Last Season + Quick Summary: 

Championship - 24th; W 5 / D 8 / L 33 / F 40 / A 98 / Pts 23

An unmitigated, howling shambles, with the South Yorkshire outfit ‘boasting’ the worst post-war record in the second tier with an avalanche of goals conceded at a rate of greater than two per game. Alan Stubbs came with an impressive record north of the border at Hibernian but wasn’t able to translate that into early results, losing 10 of the first 14 matches and was relieved of his duties. His successor Kenny Jackett relieved himself (so to speak) just a month into the post and he failed to achieve victory in any of the five league games he was in charge for and you had the sense that things off the pitch were little better than the disasters on it.

Paul Warne then assumed control on an interim basis but was powerless to turn the tide in any meaningful sense and long, long spells without a win and precisely zero on the road. Any Millers supporter who was (un)lucky enough to travel to every away league game would’ve seen their side not lose only twice. Relegation was confirmed in early April but in truth, the rot had set in much earlier and a summer of ringing the changes at the club has occurred.

Top Goalscorer: Danny Ward (10 goals in 40 starts/3,468 minutes)

Top Creator: Izzy Brown (5 assists in 17 starts/1,492 minutes)

Paul Warne has had a lot to think about during the summer months and will be hoping that the decent pre-season has side have had can shake some of the losing mentality a lot of the squad still present from 2016/2017 had going into the new term proper


Manager/Head Coach: Paul Warne; an icon as a player during two stints for Rotherham, he was a self-confessed reluctant choice for interim manager. Backed by the board at the New York Stadium immediately following demotion to do the job on a permanent basis, he is a passionate person and his love for the club is obvious for everyone to see and gets involved more than most other figureheads would at third tier level with everyday life. A modicum of greater self-belief is required to ensure that the staff and players under him have faith in his abilities.

Ins: Darren Potter (MK Dons), Michael Ihiekwe (Tranmere Rovers), Ryan Williams (Barnsley), David Ball (Fleetwood Town), Semi Ajayi (Cardiff City), Kieffer Moore (Ipswich Town on loan), Alex Bray (Swansea City U23s), Jamie Proctor (Bolton Wanderers) & Josh Emmanuel (Ipswich Town on loan).

Outs: Danny Ward (Cardiff City), Richard Smallwood (Blackburn Rovers), Kirk Broadfoot (Kilmarnock), Lee Camp (Cardiff City), Dexter Blackstock (free agent), Darnell Fisher (Preston North End), Stephen Kelly (free agent), Chris Dawson (free agent), Joel Ekstrand (free agent), Tom Thorpe (free agent) & Kelvin Wilson (free agent).

Predicted First XI & Shape:


Tactics: The signing of target man Kieffer Moore on loan should be taken as an indicator of Warne’s main strategy but in truth, he is likely to mix it up to keep the opposition guessing. Left-back Joe Mattock will probably play a little further back than Josh Emmanuel on the right flank; the former is a good crosser of the ball from deep positions and that’s as further forward as he’s likely to go in normal situations. Emmanuel can operate just as effectively on the left, which is unusual for a full-back and a big asset to the Millers. His build is also markedly different to many of his peers and that stands him in excellent stead when shielding the ball from a forward to relieve pressure on his teammates or to win it back in advanced areas.

Similarly, Semi Ajayi has lots of pace in the right-sided centre back role and will help to cover for his compatriot if he is caught upfield and can bully forwards into losing possession with his brute strength. He’ll be partnered by another young defender in the shape of Michael Ihiekwe, who, whilst lacking the raw physicality of Ajayi, will be able to put his foot on the ball to initiate a change of transition, both long to the strikers and short to Mattock or Darren Potter.

Speaking of Potter, he has the vision required of a defensive midfielder to make himself useful in a multitude of ways. Primarily, he will disrupt the runs of opposing attacking midfielders but is also adept at creating chances of his own and will be tasked with carrying the ball into the other half of the pitch. Captain Lee Frecklington can perform well almost anywhere in the middle and even out wide on occasion and will look to be a heavy influence on the tempo of the match. His tireless and selfless running will bring others into the action and he can hit rasping drives from distance should a more direct approach prove ineffective.

Much like the person behind him, Jon Taylor can swap wings to give his marker a hard task; not only that, he’s also one of the quickest and most agile players in the entire EFL, backing it up with close technical dribbling skills, the occasional bout of showboating and acrobatics with the ball. On the left, Joe Newell’s long throw-ins could be a difference maker and he is effective from corners with the amount of swerve he can get on them.

David Ball will link the midfield and attack with no shortage of aplomb and is the key man in an outfield position in this setup. Moore will offer a moving target for diagonal balls but he is also adept if the crosses are at waist height with his propensity (and confidence) when volleying the ball with his first touch.

David Ball had an impressive goal tally for high-flyers Fleetwood Town in 2016/2017; he represents just one of several decent options in the forward line for the Millers and they are sure to utilise him dropping vertically into space to pull the centre backs out of place

Predicted ‘Area’ of Finish: Safe but sorry. I’ll put the caveat in now that this prediction is by the far the one I am least certain of. I’ve seen other pundits marking the South Yorkshire club down as relegation certs… whilst some of their ardent supporters think an immediate return is probable. I think both groups are wide of the mark. There are enough good acquisitions (coupled with a necessary churn of a lot of high earners from the squad), especially Ball, to suggest that 2018/2019 will see them once more lining up in League One. The main issue hanging over them doesn’t lie with any of the players but rather the current incumbent in the dugout. Will Warne gain the confidence to think he’s much more than a ‘fraud’ as he himself has put? A dressing room needs to have some synchronicity with the person in charge of it in order for it to operate at somewhere close to its best. If he believes himself to be a loser, who could then blame his roster for thinking the same of him and each other? The opportunity is there to banish the detritus of last season’s campaign and make a good go of it.


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