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A fast turnaround - Interview
Monday, 26th Nov 2018 14:50 by Clive Whittingham

Ahead of QPR’s trip to Rotherham on Tuesday night, LFW caught up with our old mate Ross Middleton to find out what he makes of the Millers’ start to life back in the Championship and Ryan Manning’s performances on loan.

Rotherham looked in a right state when you lost 5-1 at Loftus Road just before you went down. How were you able to come straight back at the first attempt?

You’re right, we’d hit rock bottom by this stage and I have to say that was one of the worst performances of that notoriously bad season (apart from Joe Newell’s goal!). Our manager stated that he was embarrassed by that performance, one of the reasons why he probably didn’t want the job when he was offered it at the end of that season but reluctantly accepted.

Nearly half of the team that played that day are still with us. You have to applaud Paul Warne’s man management style for turning around the dejection of such a terrible season and getting the centre back pairing of Semi Ajayi and Richard Wood to play with much more confidence in League One the following season after the amount of goals they shipped throughout. He shipped out the “bad eggs” as he puts it, sold Danny Ward for a decent price and brought in replacements with good scouting and a refreshed backroom staff, former Rotherham players and people born in the area who he could trust. Paul Warne is big on psychology and has brought that team spirit back by pushing the players physically and mentally and actually emphasising what playing for Rotherham means as he did so many years ago. In a nutshell we now get 100% percent effort and are not expecting defeat when they line up to go out on the pitch.

Some notable results already this season. How would you assess the start you’ve made this season?

We’re probably about ten points short of what we should have (but every team says that don’t they?!) Our home form has been great and gives us great confidence whoever we play and we have started to get points away from home (Middlesbrough particularly a bonus).

First day of the season against Brentford was a schooling and we thought we were in for another season similar to the one before last. Warne openly admitted he may have been too kind to last year’s play-off final winning team by sticking with it and we were run ragged. Since then we’ve played a very (often too) defensive style where we concede possession but at home have broken out more and started to get the benefits. Defeats to Hull at home and draws against Stoke when we were in a winning position hopefully won’t come back to bite us in the backside. The team are certainly growing into the division but are probably a goalscorer short as we’ve missed some good chances (but every team says that as well!).

Style of play wise, what sort of team are we going to be facing on Tuesday night?

In your face, pressing, strong, physical, all of the things we weren’t in our last season here. We’re a threat from set pieces now, having scored from dead balls on numerous occasions, and hopefully one that is confident from some good home results this season. Opposition managers will say that we’re direct and aim for our big lad up top Michael Smith, but we actually do have some good ball players and speed on either wing. We have a few horses for courses.

Six draws in eight games – whassthatallabout?

To be honest, the other year that could have been eight defeats. Three of those have come at Middlesbrough, Blackburn and Preston, stopping the rot of no wins in 30-odd games away from home in the Championship. The three at home were all games we should have won against Bristol City and in particular Stoke and Bolton. It’s that type of division I’d say, and I’d say less of a gap between the teams than before due to financial restraints of some sides. Plus that extra goalscorer and taking some of our chances may have brought a few more wins out of the six draws.

Paul Warne didn’t even want to be the manager did he? What’s he brought to the role and how’s he doing?

The reluctant manager. He openly admits that season “caretaking” physically and mentally affected him and put him off doing the job full-time. But having taken the job he has brought constant enthusiasm, team spirit and more importantly a plan to the job, a vision not just for now but for the future. As I said earlier he’s surrounded himself with former Millers and people from the area who care about the town and the club and brought in some pretty good players and developed those already here. He’s a bit of an extrovert and I always thought he’d fit as a manager due to the many managers he’s worked under here, having played good cop as fitness coach while bad cops such as Steve Evans managed, so he has probably learnt a lot from every manager we’ve had since he’s been here. He’s grown into the role.

Our boy Ryan Manning seems to be doing alright so far, with the penalty taking at least. What have you made of him? Where do you play him? How’s he done?

We play three in central midfield so he has mainly occupied the left sided position of the three. He’s been in and out of the team and has good and not so good games but you can’t argue with his penalty taking (four pens from four attempts) so he’s got nerves of steel, likes a tackle and puts the effort in, which is all we want. I was surprised he was allowed to come to us and we’re expecting him to go back in January (although I read you’ve got a lot of midfielders so feel free not to recall him!).

Stand out players and weak links in the side?

Semi Ajayi at centre-back stands out like a sore thumb nowadays. Absolutely ripped to shreds when we played you the season before last, he’s come on leaps and bounds and is now a full international with Nigeria. He’s played holding midfielder and centre-half but with Will Vaulks back in midfield he’s likely to go back in defence. There’s interest in him now and were expecting a seven-figure bid in January. Vaulks has improved from his last season in the Championship. Ryan Williams is a constant threat as a number 10 or winger and has the pace and trickery to create chances for Michael Smith, our lone striker who works so hard and is starting to get the goals he deserves. Our goalkeeper Marek Rodak (on loan from Fulham) has kept us in a few games and will no doubt be busy again this season.

As for the weak links, there are no obvious ones as there were two years ago. Our right back on loan from Bristol City (Zak Vyner) has been rinsed a couple of times, but the standard of wingers has been pretty good this year. Our lack of goals is probably our biggest weakness.

How do you see the season panning out? Is it about survival or a push up the table? Where do you think you’ll finish?

Given the fact that we’ve spent zilch on transfers, I’d take 21st but actually think we could finish higher, with a couple of good acquisitions in January. We should be higher up the table but are where we are. We play Reading and Bolton before and after Christmas so those games are crucial. My worry is that teams may find us out second time around but this team has more togetherness and toughness than before and could surprise a few more. I’ll take a comfortable eighteenth.

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francisbowles added 11:16 - Nov 27
Thanks for the interview Ross (and Clive). It could be a bit of a Mexican standoff with both teams sitting and trying to tempt the other one out of defence.

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