The Rotherham View: poor recruitment

rotherhamRotherham United have been the Championship’s masters escapology in recent seasons. This year however, the 12 point distance to safety looks insurmountable, even for them. Where have things gone wrong? Who has provided the flashes of light? And is the rest of this season less about staying up, and more about re-kindling some belief that the club’s journey is not over? The Football Lab discusses all this and more with supporter Holly Hunt (on Twitter @HollyHunt10).

For the last four years, Rotherham United have either won promotion or stayed up in the Championship and there has long been a sense of progress and achievement. Has it been a shock to the system to see a season like this one?

Not to the fans, I don’t think. Alan Stubbs had ideas above his station of the Play-Offs so maybe for him it was a shock that the Championship wasn’t the walk in the park he thought it was going to be. The fans always knew it was going to be tough. You look and see the likes of Wigan amongst the strugglers and that just tells you how strong the league is this year.

The appointment of Alan Stubbs got a mixed reaction from fans. Do you think fielding players in unnatural positions was one of the main things he got wrong?

He brought in the wrong players in the first place; players that would shine in the Scottish Championship but not the English Championship. Will Vaulks, Scott Allan, Darnell Fisher, Dominic Ball, etc. Playing them out of position was just secondary to that. He was trying to go about playing the right way but that’s not the Rotherham way. Neil Redfearn and co. tried that before and look where that got him. He brought in a lot of young players to suit this ‘pass-and-go’ style of play but his best players were the more experienced ones like Richard Wood who has come out of hiding recently and put in some solid shifts.

Kenny Jackett walked out after five games, reportedly over the board’s reduced transfer funds for January. Should he have honoured his commitment to the club? Or should the board have backed him, regardless of survival chances?

It’s possible that he thought he could turn it around when he took over but realised after those five games what was happening and didn’t fancy an inevitable relegation on his CV. I am a little confused if it was to do with the January kitty as surely there would have been a meeting about that when he put pen to paper with us. It wouldn’t surprise me if Tony Stewart had said that he wasn’t willing to spend if we were going down, though. It’s still a shame, as Kenny Jackett is a good manager in the second tier, let alone the third.

If you talked to Millers fans a year ago, many would have been highly praising of chairman Tony Stewart. Has that changed this season? Has he become a victim of his own success?

It’s a bit of a taboo subject – talking about the chairman in bad terms. Obviously we owe him some sized debt for what he’s done for us and where he’s taken us but I think he does need to move with the times and maybe get in a director of football, for example. He says all the right things in his pressers but there is a negative vibe towards him at the minute on social media. I think more than anything, it was Steve Evans who was a victim of his own success, dating all the way back to the start of the 2014/15 campaign. Again, he worked wonders for us but at the same time, whilst he was on Football on 5 a few weeks back saying that we didn’t have the players to stay up, it was him that tore the heart of our promotion winning team apart.

If the team continues defending as it is, you’ll be the first second tier team to concede more than 100 since Stockport in 01/02. Having used 11 different defenders already, has the lack of tactical consistency been a problem?

Stubbs didn’t seem to know who his best back four were and Neil Warnock proved last season that an experienced back-line and one that know the league works well. Stubbs, however, had been playing an extremely youthful back-line in Fisher, Fry, Ball and Joe Mattock, for the most part. Dominic Ball even admitted to the fans on the train home from Ipswich that the team didn’t know what their roles were under Stubbs. So, yeah, that has been a factor.

Going forward, you’ve not been as bad as your position might suggest with one goal per game. Has Danny Ward been one of the harder working players?

Not only does Danny Ward have goals when you play him as a number nine but he works his socks off and I think I may have mentioned it before but for a diminutively built striker, he gets up well! He’s one of the few players that has shown some desire to fight for his shirt and really presses rather than sitting back. Not he has any serious competition to threaten his place! It’s a wonder he’s stayed fit what with his injury record and the amount of minutes he has under his belt this season so far. However, he may not be with us past the New Year as one of the set-backs of his form is that it’s always likely to turn heads and it sounds like he’s not rushing into signing a new contract any time soon.

Winger Jon Taylor played well at St Andrews and is your second top scorer with three goals. I imagine there’s not many players you’d want to keep longer-term, but would he come into that category?

Jon Taylor was intended to be one for the future but he’s delivering now, which is always nice. He reminds me of Joe Newell, who we also bought from Peterborough. It’s a shame that we can’t produce talents such as themselves from our own academy. Nonetheless, they’re both incredibly promising and skilful and definitely two players who, if we can keep hold of them, should tear League One defences apart.

In the pre-season Q&A, you had said that you, like other fans were excited about the club bringing in young, hungry players, most of which in their early 20s. Has the problem been that you’ve not augmented those types with some experience and leadership?

I’ll hold my hands up and say they haven’t worked out. However, I did expect Alan Stubbs to find that blend between age and experience, not simply chuck all the youngsters in at once. Some have worked out, such as the aforementioned Jon Taylor, but a lot have been thrown in at the deep end too soon and too much has been expected of them. Will Vaulks, for instance. A lot was expected of him after Falkirk fans heaped praise on him, not to mention we beat Barnsley to his signature so we were willing him to be a star. Perhaps that’s why he’s not as good as anticipated.

Rotherham built successive promotions partly on finances, but also the positive vibes around the club. If you were to go down without a fight this year, would it be difficult to recreate that sense of positivity and belief next season?

I think if we kept the squad we had, minus and a few and with a few additions, we could be alright. I thought the past couple of seasons if we went down with the squads we had (mainly because we were made up of loan players) we would have struggled to bounce straight back. It needs and a manager who knows and loves the club to galvanize the players and the fans, though. That’s why the supporters were asking for Paul Warne to be given a chance. If we could string a few wins together – even if (or when) we go down – that would be enough to inject the fans with some positivity like Neil Warnock did. Football fans are fickle, after all.


The Football Lab is sponsored by Classic Football Shirts.