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Millers' winter uptick driving survival hopes - Interview
Friday, 12th Feb 2021 11:26 by Clive Whittingham

A familiar sounding switch to a back three has seen Rotherham stick four quickfire wins on the board and lift themselves out of the Championship relegation zone. Ross Middleton gives us the latest from South Yorkshire.

How's the season gone for Rotherham so far?

Season of two halves really. We started quite tentatively, leaving us thinking it was going to be one of those Championship seasons again, particularly due to our poor away form. But since January we’ve looked a completely different team, partly due to the rest we ended up having during December due to Covid/weather issues (although Derby would tell you we made that up and created the snow and rainstorms that followed).

Seriously though since the first game of the New Year against Everton in the FA Cup, free of the pressure of a Championship game we played away from home with more freedom, which has given the lads (and the manager) the confidence to take the game to teams. And in the games when we’ve been up against it we’ve nailed the counter attack perfectly, three away wins on the bounce proof of that.

Rotherham league results so far…
Wycombe 0-1 Rotherham Ihiekwe 90
Rotherham 0-1 Millwall Wallace 50
Birmingham 1-1 Rotherham Bela pen 90 – Sadlier pen 87
Rotherham 1-1 Huddersfield Wiles 33 – MacDonald og 90
Rotherham 1-2 Norwich Ladapo 3 – Ihiekwe og 68, Hugill pen 90
Forest 1-1 Rotherham Ameobi 79 – Barlaser pen 51
Reading 3-0 Rotherham Meite 41, 79, Joao pen 90
Rotherham 3-0 Sheff Wed Lindsay 5, 45, Barlaser pen 40
Stoke 1-0 Rotherham McClean 27
Rotherham 0-1 Luton Collins 70
Rotherham 2-1 Preston Wood 53, Crooks 86 – Ledson 80
Swansea 1-0 Rotherham Grimes 28
QPR 3-2 Rotherham Chair 20, Dykes pen 45, Osayi-Samuel 45 – Smith 38, Ladapo 84
Rotherham 2-2 Bournemouth Ladapo 37, 50 – Stanislas pen 20, Solanke 63
Rotherham 0-2 Brentford Forss 57, Toney pen 82
Coventry 3-1 Rotherham Biamou 5, Walker 12, Smith og 72 – Barlaser pen 85
Watford 2-0 Rotherham Kabasele 5, Deeney 15
Rotherham 2-0 Bristol City Crooks 4, Smith 41
Blackburn 2-1 Rotherham Elliott 80, Armstrong 90 – Smith 61
Rotherham 1-2 Barnsley Smith 57 – Woodrow 8, Mowatt 15
Derby 0-1 Rotherham Lindsay 86
Rotherham 3-3 Stoke Crooks 31, 67, Smith 51 – MacDonald og 14, Batth 62, Powell 75
Boro 0-3 Rotherham Crooks 43, Smith pen 79, Giles 90
Rotherham 1-3 Swansea Ladapo 65 – Hourihane 28, Grimes 38, Fulton 74
Rotherham 3-0 Derby Ihiekwe 76, Smith 81, Giles 88
Preston 1-2 Rotherham Evans 65 – Rafferty og 1, Wiles 55
Rotherham 1-2 Cardiff Crooks 61 – Ojo 42, Bennett 45

Your form has picked up almost in exactly the same way ours has, any particular reasons for your uptick? Other than you clearly have Derby's number...

A change in formation has helped massively, changing to a 3-5-2, which I think has made us more solid on the whole. It always helps having three centre-backs rather than two. Michael Smith and Matt Crooks have come into form which was missing in the early part of the season, Crooks especially who admits to having had his head turned at the start of the season with transfer talk. Crooks has been a revelation as a second striker and him and Smith have linked perfectly.

I also think the manager is still learning at this level and it is beginning to pay off, hence the results against Derby and the belief is there now that we can compete at this level. A couple of good additions in January have boosted the squad and returning players from injury have boosted the massive bench we have to fill nowadays.

Second half at Loftus Road you went very, very direct, caused us all sorts of problems. Is that the usual style, should we expect more of that, or was it just something that worked that night?

I’d expect more of the same, although we are unfairly labelled with this “direct” tag by (losing) opposition managers as if it’s the only tactic we possess, when in fact we do play some good football at times. Cardiff this past Tuesday was a throwback as they were even more direct than us and we paid for it as we failed to combat that (and the snowstorm in the last 20 minutes). Having a number of six-footers in the side helps us to play to our strengths, hence a number of set-piece goals, but we have good ball players in Dan Barlaser and Lewis Wing who can dictate the play from midfield also.

Paul Warne approval rating still high?

Definitely. Rumour has it that Warney was a couple of games from the sack when we were on a bad run back end of last year, but the upturn in form in the New Year has strengthened his position. Winning games away from home has been his biggest success as that was a weight that was bringing him down. You can see he’s still learning as I mentioned earlier, subtle tactical changes and better use of his substitutes proof of that.

What did you make of your transfer activity in Jan? Ryan Giles looks a good one…

Giles and Lewis Wing were added to the squad but more importantly a number of fringe players were let go so the bench looks the strongest it’s been this season. Giles has scored two in his first 4 appearances and looks a natural in the left wing-back role when he can get on the pitch as he has pace to burn and a great cross on him. Lewis Wing has a good eye for a pass and is settling in, were just unlucky that we’ve lost Jamie Lindsay to injury for a couple of months, our standout performer this season, which has weakened our midfield a little. However, injury returns for Shaun MacDonald, Kieran Sadlier and hopefully Chiedozie Ogbene before the end of the season can only strengthen our chances of staying up.

Summer Ins >>> Dan Barlaser, 23, CM, Newcastle, £250k >>> Wes Harding, 23, CB. Birmingham, Undisclosed >>> Mickel Miller, CF, 24, Hamilton, Free >>> Kieran Sadlier, 25, LW, Doncaster, Free >>> Angus MacDonald, 27, CB, Hull, Free >>> Viktor Johansson, 21, GK, Leicester, Free >>> Josh Vickers, 24, GK, Unattached, Free >>> Jamal Blackman, 26, GK, Chelsea, Loan >>> Florian Jozefzoon, 29, RW, Derby, Loan >>> George Hirst, 21, CF, Leicester, Loan

Summer Outs >>> Jerry Yates, 23, CF, Blackpool, Undisclosed >>> Julien Lamy, 20, LW, Released >>> Laurence Bilboe 22, GK, Released >>> Joshua Kayode, 20, CF, Carlisle, Loan >>> Jake Hull, 18, CB, Matlock, Loan >>> Jake Cooper, 19, CB, Gateshead, Loan >>> Curtis Tilt, 29, CB, Wigan, Loan >>> Jamie Proctor, 28, CF, Newport, Loan

Winter Ins >>> Ryan Giles, 21, LM, Wolves, Loan >>> Lewis Wing, 25, CM, Boro, Loan

Winter Outs >>> Adam Thompson, 28, CB, Orient, Undisclosed >>> Mickel Miller, 25, CF, Northampton, Loan >>> Kyle Vassell, 28, CF, Fleetwood, Loan >>> Billy Jones, 33, RB, Crewe, Loan

Where is the team strong and weak?
We’ve conceded the third highest amount of goals this season so you’ve got to say we can still be shaky at the back and we have a tendency to get caught on the break quite often and ride our luck, even if results have improved recently. However, we look far more of a goal threat so are just as likely to win a game 3-2; we always look capable of scoring now. Competition for places has been stronger, we now have options up front and are creating chances for these lads with the lads out wide. Set pieces are obviously a strength and we’ve shared the goals out as a team, with 14 from midfield. Smith and Crooks are forming a strong partnership; their form is crucial to us getting results.

Do you think you'll stay up? Consequences if you don't?

Honest answer is I haven’t got a clue. This division is so close as you know, a win on Saturday and it pulls you guys in, a loss and we could be back in the bottom three. I have to say if we get to the end of March in with a chance we should stay up as a lot of the games we’ve left to play in April are winnable, but that’s not how the Championship works is it. If we end up going down the obvious ramifications are real – with no income we won’t be spending much next season and we will probably end up selling a couple of crown jewels in Crooks and Barlaser as well as others, so another season of recruitment would await.

Heart says 15th finish, head says 21st scrape up last day of the season and Derby go down.

Links >>> Rotherham United official website >>> Sheffield Star – Local Press >>> Millers Banter – Forum

The Twitter @loftforwords

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TacticalR added 19:57 - Feb 14
Thanks to Ross.

At one point Rotherham looked dead and buried, but recent results have shown that they have found their feet.

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