Rotherham left to curse lousy away form after home improvements - Interview
Thursday, 2nd Nov 2023 16:44 by Clive Whittingham
In South Yorkshire, Rotherham have been playing some nice stuff on their own patch, but one point and three goals scored away from home so far has them once again struggling at the wrong end of the Championship - Ross Middleton is our man in 'New York'.
How would you assess the season so far?
I’ve been watching Rotherham for 35 years and this is probably the strangest team I’ve ever seen in how well we have played at home and the atrocious away ‘performances’ we’ve seen. We’ve played some of the best football we’ve ever seen in games against Leicester, Norwich and Blackburn and then served up some pathetic away performances, topped off with last Sunday’s horror show at Sheffield Wednesday.
We made some really encouraging signings, especially bolstering the midfield, but one point (at Southampton) and just three goals away from home shows what our Achilles heel is. We’ve again suffered with injuries, replying on those elder pros who got us through last year, due to the wages we can realistically pay, but some of the other signings just haven’t come off. It’s so weird that we go into home games expecting to win but the away trips are literally ground tick-offs or days out with no expectations.
Rotherham in the league so far…
It felt like you guys were really going for it a bit with the signings end of last January, a concerted push to consolidate in the Champ, but it’s back to really struggling this year. Why hasn’t it worked out?
I’ll use injuries as an excuse as we’ve a whole defence out injured and are having to rotate players and pray they get through the majority of a match. I think we’ve filled our nine-man bench once this season (this past Sunday) so lack of options has been a big problem. Our main centre-back pairing of Cameron Humphreys and Tyler Blackett have sustained similar season-ending hamstring injuries, resulting in surgery, meaning that we’re relying on Lee Peltier (just back from injury), Sean Morrison (just back from injury) and Grant Hall (always injured – as you know). We’ve also had to sign Daniel Ayala who must be a free agent this late into the season for a reason, but I’d expect him to start on Saturday with a full week’s training behind him.
The signing of Jordan Hugill really pushed us on in January and we did push the boat out in the summer, breaking our transfer record to sign Christ Tiehi, who has played well, and Sam Nombe (our first £1m player), who has not played well. The quality of signings has improved, with Cafu and Sam Clucas coming in, but most of the lads are on 1-year contracts for a reason, meaning there is precious little stability in team selection due to injuries and in and out form/formations changes etc.
How long’s Taylor got? How much is he to blame?
I’d suggest if we lose to yourselves on Saturday then the knives may be out mate. Personally I’d like to see him given time as I believe in what he’s trying to do, but again the lack of stability in team selection is hurting us badly. However, I also think he needs more of a ruthless streak when we play away from home as we’ve been overly cautious in games where we were beaten as soon as we stepped on the pitch. As soon as we go 1-0 down away from home (usually early) that’s it. Some of the players he’s let go have gone on to do well elsewhere (Peter Kioso being a prime example, albeit at a division below) but I know a lot of supporters who are pretty bored with the style of play in some games and want a change.
Who would you want instead?
I see names suggested all over twitter that are completely unrealistic such as John Eustace and Chris Wilder, who’ll get bigger and better jobs than ours, but also think it may take someone like that to take us out of the “small club” mentality that the current manager keeps referring to. Personally don’t want to see Neil Warnock back as a lot of fans do as it’s simply a stop gap (and de ja vu) which would simply leave us with no manager and barely any players next season with most of them out of contract. Gary Rowett would do a good job but I think he’s a bell end, as is Nigel Pearson. The chairman has got to think about the long-term, it may take us to get relegated to sort out this ageing squad and enable us to sign younger, hungrier players, which is what we did when we initially struggled under Paul Warne. But the Chairman has spent a lot of money this last year so don’t think that is an option. Honest answer is that I don’t know who could do any better under the circumstances and gigantic injury list.
Tell us about your summer transfer window – what was done, what was left undone?
As mentioned earlier, we signed Christ Tiehi, Cafu and Sam Clucas to add to the quality of Ollie Rathbone and when it clicks it really clicks at home on that front. We’ve also signed a couple of loanees in Fred Onyedinma and Dexter Lembikisa, who have been pretty good. However, we decided to re-sign Sean Morrison, Lee Peltier and Grant Hall on one-year deals, which at the time I thought was a good move due to the pond were fishing in, but has turned out to be a disaster as they’ve barely played enough games between them (Hall has played about 70 minutes).
We spent a lot of money for us, laying out £1m on Sam Nombe, who has barely featured due to the formation changes, slowness in getting up to speed with how we play - or just by being crap maybe. Don’t know, haven’t seen enough of him. The next couple of weeks will determine what January’s going to be like, depending on results, which then depends on which manager is going to be bringing in signings in January.
Ins >>> Sam Nombe, 24, CF, Exeter, £1m >>> Christ Tiehi, 25, DM, Slovan Liberec, Undisclosed >>> Andre Green, 25, LW, Slovan Bratislava, Free >>> Cafu, 30, CM, Forest, Free >>> Grant Hall, 31, CB, Boro, Free >>> Dillon Phillips, 28, GK, Cardiff, Free >>> Fred Oneydinma, 26, RW, Luton, Loan >>> Dexter Lembikisa, 19, RB, Wolves, Loan >>> Arvin Appiah, 22, LW, Almeria, Loan >>> Sebastien Revan, 20, LB, Villa, Loan >>> Daniel Ayala, 32, CB, Unattached, Free >>> Sam Clucas, 32, CM, Unattached, Free
Outs >>> Ben Wiles, 24, CM, Huddersfield, Undisclosed >>> Chiedozie Ogbene, 26, RW, Luton, Free >>> Wes Harding, 26, RB, Millwall, Free >>> Josh Vickers, 27, GK, Derby, Free >>> Richard Wood, 37, CB, Doncaster, Free >>> Conor Washington, 31, CF, Derby, Undisclosed >>> Robbie Hemfrey, 21, GK, Released >>> Mackenzie Warne, 19, CF, Brighouse, Free >>> Peter Kioso, 23, RB, Peterborough, Loan >>> Jamie McCart, 26, CB, Barnsley, Loan >>> Joshua Kayode, 23, CF, Carlisle, Loan >>> Jake Hull, 21, CB, Buxton, Loan >>> Curtis Durose, 19, CM, Scarborough, Loan >>> Hamish Douglas, 18, CB, Gainsborough, Loan >>> Joel Holvey, 18, CM, Gainsborough, Loan
Strengths and weaknesses in the team?
As I said earlier, when it clicks we can play some good football so our counter-attack can be good on our day, but it depends what day it is. Our two best centre-halves are currently injured so the defence is the weakness. To be fair, if we didn’t have Viktor in the net we’d be rock bottom.
Seeing as Jordan Hugill has played for you guys before I’m expecting him to score on Saturday, as long as he doesn’t spend all game looking at the centre-half marking him when balls are flying in the air towards him, inviting most weak refs to give unnecessary fouls, so you could say he’s a strength and a weakness.
Revised expectations for the season?
If I’m honest I expect us to be relegated due to our horrendous away form. We can’t rely on picking up points at home every week, even though we are a different side at home. Think it’s three of ourselves, yourselves, Sheffield Wednesday and Huddersfield. Fourth from bottom is the aim, as always, but think we’ll struggle to achieve that this year.
The Twitter @loftforwords, RossMid38810197
Pictures — Action Images
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