Autopsy of a football season – Interview
Thursday, 16th Mar 2017 10:24 by Clive Whittingham
Poor Rotherham regular Ross Middleton has very kindly given up his time this week to pick over the carcas of the Millers' 2016/17 disaster and try to pinpoint where it all went wrong.
Why has it gone so wrong this season?
RM: Simply put, we were behind the eight ball from the point Neil Warnock decided he needed a bigger challenge in the summer after surprising himself at just how well he and his team did with what he had at his disposal when he took over in February last year. This threw us into disarray a little and left us behind other teams in terms of recruitment of a manager and quality additions to bring some much-needed strength in depth to the squad. The chairman started yet another search for a new manager, Alan Stubbs was brought in and the rest is (bad) history.....
We started the season with pretty much one fit first team striker in Danny Ward and are pretty much ending the season with one fit first team striker, with a little help from youngster Jerry Yates. In reality we just haven’t got the clout to bring in the quality we need to stay in this division compared to other clubs and the gulf in class has been massive this season. The spine of the team just hasn’t been there and the biggest miss for me this season has been Lee Camp, out since before Christmas and not replaced well enough. Off to Cardiff with Mr Warnock in the summer apparently.
What happened with Kenny Jackett? That all seemed very odd from the start.
RM: We all originally thought he was the best candidate out there and I have to say I was surprised he took the job, not only because of the position we were in but with the logistics of a three-year contract up north – he'd only worked as far north as Wolverhampton in the past. But when he was announced I immediately thought he’d be perfect for next season in League One and anything this season would be a bonus.
It was an odd five games (or 39 days), gaining one point in all, but we thought it would have taken him a bit longer to realise how bad we were before jumping ship. I immediately thought he’d been given false promises by the board, which possibly was not the case, and the truth hasn’t come out yet, but it was another forgettable aspect of our season.
Any criticism for present manager Paul Warne? Does he keep the job next season?
RM: The fans are divided over Warne’s future position with the club. The players have certainly warmed to his training methods and seem to put in a shift for him (even though the quality’s sadly lacking), but it could be said that he is too close to the players and isn’t the right man to make tough decisions and drop certain players who he is close to. You can’t criticise Warne too much as he has inherited some absolute dross, getting three wins out of them, but he said from the start he didn’t want the job and now has said he’d take it if asked, so your guess is as good as mine whether he takes the job. I’d compare him to your own Chris Ramsey; our chairman has already said he’s got a job for life on the fitness/coaching side of things, so either way he’ll keep a job.
Warne is in the frame for the job as he’s been allowed to bring players in during January with a view to retaining certain loan players next season, but many fans are getting more and more frustrated with every defeat, with a worry that the losing mentality could hangover into next season.
My early favourite was Mick McCarthy who was on a terrible run with Ipswich, but their improvement has meant that Warne could be given the job when our relegation is confirmed, so his pre-season transfer activity would be crucial.
What needs to happen next season for the club to be able to challenge for promotion? Will it?
RM: Where do we start? A manager in place early enough to begin preparations with our new head of recruitment (if it’s Warne it will have already begun). The problem is we’ve chopped and changed the playing staff nearly every year so this summer is not going to be any different so recruitment is going to be vital.
More importantly to me, we have to get things right off the pitch. Apart from our lovely stadium, we don’t have much to offer players who might want to join us. The place where they do the bulk of their work is the training ground, which is dilapidated, so plans that were put in place a long time ago need to be pushed on. The youth structure also needs sorting badly, a job Neil Redfearn was brought in to do but couldn’t do that and manage the club also. We don’t have many knocking on the door of the first team, and the young lads that do feature are mainly bench fillers to mask our embarrassing squad depth. All in all there’s a ton of work to do.
QPR were heavily linked with Danny Ward in January before opting for (cheaper) Matt Smith who's impressed so far. What can you tell us about Ward?
RM: When fit Danny Ward is a quality addition to any Championship line-up. Strong, good in the air and a cracking left foot, we (rightly) held out for as much as we could in January, safe in the knowledge that we can extend his contract in the summer and still get money for him. It’s fair to say he’s gone off the boil since he didn’t get a move but he didn’t sulk or request a transfer and, apart from a couple of injuries, he’s been available and not hidden. To score ten goals before Christmas in this team with the lack of quality service is some achievement. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him at your place in the summer even after the signing of Matt Smith as it seems to be a Championship trait to sign as many strikers as possible as goals win games at the end of the day.
Plenty of weak links I imagine, but any particular strengths in this team?
RM: Danny Ward is an obvious one (apart from last time out against Wolves) but one to look for is Tom Adeyemi, who often plays behind him in the hole between midfield and attack. When on the ball he’s hard to stop and has scored some cracking goals. Jon Taylor, our tiny but very quick winger, has been in good form lately and is dangerous cutting in from the left hand side. And our recently signed centre-back Semi Ajayi has been impressive, if prone to the odd mistake, but he is one we’re looking to sign for next year.
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