Rotherham United’s key players are set to leave and with the club struggling under new boss Matt Taylor, F365’s resident Millers fan is concerned.
As a Rotherham supporter, you are aware that a lot of pain will come from a season in the Championship.
The Millers’ lack of investment in a league full of ex-Premier League clubs often leaves them playing catch-up without an abundance of quality in their squad.
The South Yorkshire outfit have been promoted or relegated in each of the past six seasons as they have yo-yoed between the Championship and League One.
This has mostly come during Paul Warne’s reign in charge. The lovable former player-turned-fitness coach-turned-manager learned on the job and with his supreme man-management skills, he built a squad that gave everything for their manager.
The club’s previous three seasons in the Championship under Warne all ended in relegation. But there was gradual progress each term and in 2020/21 they might have survived had it not been for obscene fixture congestion triggered by a severe Covid-19 breakout in the squad.
The Millers had the personnel to stay up that season and that would help them enjoy a remarkable campaign under Warne last year with automatic promotion and a win at Wembley in the Papa John’s Trophy final.
Rotherham’s pursuit for survival in the Championship is often difficult and it was made tougher before this season started as Michael Smith and Michael Ihiekwe jumped ship to join rivals Sheffield Wednesday after their contracts expired.
This was a bitter blow as both players had been supreme assets under Warne and were key to their success in League One.
Warne operated on a shoestring in the transfer market with Grant Hall (loan from Middlesbrough), Conor Washington (free from Charlton) and ex-Man City youngster Cameron Humphreys (free from Zulte Waregem) among their notable additions.
Despite Smith and Ihiekwe leaving, belief among the supporters was high that this could be a special season with full trust in Warne that he could lead Rotherham to safety with the standard in the Championship not what it once was.
The Millers enjoyed a brilliant start to the season as they sat eighth in the table after nine games and a win in their game in hand would have carried them into the play-off places.
It was an unthinkable position and the club were in dreamland. But this is Rotherham and this is the Championship, so things have since unravelled.
Warne was rightly earning plaudits for his work at The New York Stadium and he was plucked away in September by League One side Derby County.
A drop in division to join the Rams may have surprised some, but he was joining a club with far greater potential than Rotherham and a handy pay rise would have no doubt sweetened the deal.
Rotherham’s hierarchy looked to League One for his successor. Cambridge United’s Mark Bonner was initially targeted; he turned down the opportunity so they went with Exeter City’s Matt Taylor instead.
The 40-year-old was coming off League Two promotion and he had Exeter in the top half of League One in their first season back in the third tier.
A smart appointment on paper and he enjoyed a positive start before the World Cup break as away wins over Stoke City and Sheffield United left them 16th in the table on 26 points after 21 games.
Taylor used the break to take the squad on a mid-season trip to Cyprus and it was hoped that this camp would further strengthen the Millers as the manager could fully get his message and tactics across to his players.
But since the restart on December 10, Rotherham have been nothing short of abysmal.
Five defeats in the Championship. 13 goals conceded and just three scored. And over the weekend they suffered a 4-1 FA Cup third round hammering at the hands of League One high-flyers Ipswich Town.
The pressure is already growing on Taylor as he has systematically undone the great work of the previous regime.
Changes are always likely to be made in playing style when a new boss arrives. But in recent weeks Taylor has taken away what made Rotherham a success at the start of this season.
The Millers lack quality so to be a success in the second tier, there is a reliance on work rate and a high press that forces opponents into mistakes.
But seemingly in an attempt to ensure his team reserve energy to be more efficient on the ball, he has taken away the press and ordered his players to stand off. But this has made them more open defensively with opponents strolling through and being gifted chances without anything of note coming in reply from Rotherham in an attacking sense.
Taylor has also ruffled a few feathers in interviews, with him outing underperforming players by admitting that “they are fighting; Trust me they are fighting. There is no lack of effort, just a lack of quality.”
This honest and perhaps abrasive approach is alien to the current squad as Warne was a player’s dream as he always backed them, at least publicly. Some players are already looking elsewhere.
Dan Barlaser and Chieo Ogbene are two of Rotherham’s best players but they are out of contract in the summer and could be sold to Middlesbrough and Swansea City respectively this month if reports are to be believed.
Star goalkeeper Viktor Johansson has penned an extension, but the likes of Richard Wood, Wes Harding, Shane Ferguson and Lee Peltier all could exit on frees later this year.
Meanwhile, their poor form has seen them slip down to 21st in the Championship and they are just one point above the bottom three. On current form, Rotherham are the worst team in the division bar Wigan.
While Taylor has got things wrong in recent months, not the whole blame lies at his door.
Rotherham owner Tony Stewart saved the club from near bankruptcy and has moved them to a brilliant modern stadium back in the town after they were forced to play in Sheffield at The Don Valley Stadium.
Stewart is a romantic and has given big promises at the start of each season in the Championship that his manager will be backed to give the club a better chance of staying up.
But frankly, this has not happened; the recruitment team are usually made to scour the loan and free agent market. But some investment is needed to bridge the gap in quality between Championship and League One.
Stewart will always be admired by the club’s fans for saving them from going out of business, but hasty pledges have left supporters demanding answers.
In 2016/17, Rotherham were relegated to League One after an embarrassing season that saw them amass just 23 points.
Warne brought the club back together as one unit off and on the pitch, but they are now becoming distant once again.
Taylor needs time to make things right and a lot of the Millers’ current crop of players will not be there for too much longer. With Barlaser and Ogbene likely off, Taylor needs to lay the groundwork for his own squad right away this month.
They may have to accept another relegation to effectively see out this plan, but like in 2016/17, a full rebuild is needed as Rotherham enters a new era with problems throughout the club coming to the surface.
It is never dull being a Rotherham fan, but a long road lies ahead to bring the positivity back amid the ongoing sinking of the ship.
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