Rotherham United 2019-20 Season Review with Josh Yeardley and Jack Fawcus

Depending on the conclusion of the 2019-20 League One season, Rotherham United are hoping to reside in the Championship next year. Do they have what it takes to compete at that level? How well is Paul Warne doing as manager? Who are their key players and where do they need to strengthen? All is discussed with lifelong Millers Josh Yeardley (@josh_yeardley) and Jack Fawcus (@FawcusJack).

You’ve responded incredibly well to relegation from the Championship, currently occupying second-place in League One. What do you feel you’ve got right at this level that maybe bigger clubs like Ipswich and Sunderland haven’t quite grasped?

Jack: We have a settled way of playing, good recruitment & good players. We retained a core of players from last year & that has helped immensely. Relegation was disappointing last year but it was also likely so perhaps we haven’t experienced the crises that Sunderland & Ipswich have gone through. Currently we are probably naturally somewhere between Div 1 and the Champ. In Div 1 we have a competitive wage budget but in the Champ we are a minnow. If we don’t go back up we may have a lower budget next year & may lose a few key players with declining contracts. The recruitment guys will already be working on this.

Josh: I think the main reason we have responded better and coped better in L1 compared to Ipswich and Sunderland is recruitment, we’ve brought in the right type of characters I believe that will hopefully get us promoted, no big egos just players who are suited to our style and play for the team and not just themselves. Looking at those 2 clubs as an outsider it seems they’ve not perhaps got that right.

Chairman Tony Stewart has clearly done loads for the football club in his time in charge. I’m curious to know if you have any ideas about the running of the club… do you think Stewart controls the day-to-day aspects, or does he put the money in and delegate a lot of the tasks?

Jack: Tony Stewart is greatly loved by Rotherham fans for everything he has done for the Club. I get the impression he remains heavily involved & he definitely has weekly meetings with Paul Warne with whom he seems to have an excellent relationship. He invests sensibly & we are in a good financial position, Covid may challenge that but the lack of debt means we are in a strong position. The focus is on good recruitment with an eye to selling at a profit. We are getting better at this with both Ajayi & Vaulks being sold for good profits. The next step is selling for higher prices. Players like Crooks, Ogbene & Ladapo definitely have resale potential & Chief recruiter Rob Scott has done a great job so far.

Josh: From my understanding of the football club I believe Tony Stewart puts the money into the club and delegates a lot of tasks to people more qualified than him, for example we have a finance operator, operations director as well as commercial director and a chief executive who he puts full faith into every year to constantly improve the club behind the scenes.

Paul Warne has done a fabulous job. Is it his ability to refine the types of characters the club brings in and connect people on an emotional level that makes him unique in the EFL?

Jack: Yes that does make him very unique in the EFL. Ironically when we lose games the local Boo boys latch onto the “good human beings” cliche & tell Warne we need to sign nasty winners. What Warne tries to sign are players who want to work hard to get better & players who want to be at rotherham and who buy into the team ethic. Sadly that is too complicated sometimes for some fans. He’s very into psychology & leadership teaching and is simply trying to get an extra few percentage out of his men. He’s enormously inspiring & is much loved by most fans.

Josh: Despite two relegations during his time as Millers manager but most Millers appreciate the work he does with limited resources(especially in the championship) Warne runs the football side of things very well and has created a close tight knit family that care about each other give everything to the cause, he does this because it’s how it was when be was a player at Rotherham during the successful Ronnie Moore days. A football club is normally the heart of the community and it’s just as important to be respectful and kind off the pitch as it is to give everything on the pitch. Warne’s style of management is very unique he see’s himself as a teacher and the players are his students and I don’t believe any manager is like that in the football league. Not everyone is fond of the emotional intelligence that he wants at the football club but in life we all do something I.e job wise or hobby wise to make our family proud and that’s very important to Warne.

Assistant manager Richie Barker, goalkeeping coach Andy Warrington and head of talent ID Rob Scott are all Millers legends. Do you see it as an advantage having people working at the club who care about Rotherham?

Jack: Yes I certainly do. They understand what Rotherham fans like, it may be a bit of a cliche but we love hard working committed players. Warne, Barker & Scott all played in the Ronnie Moore team who achieved back to back promotions playing a tough direct style. The Warne philosophy follows that style and definitely fits the clubs DNA. The coaching staff were all appointed by Warne & genuinely appear to be great mates. He gives them enormous credit for any success.

Josh: The coaching staff probably don’t see it as an advantage they probably see it as more pressurising but I see it as a advantage purely because they’ve all played in successful Rotherham sides and they know what he means to play for the millers they all know what the fans demand from the coaches and the players which they hope rubs off on the current players. Rob Scott knows exactly what type of players get the fans off there seats and that has shown with the players we’ve signed since he arrived last year

Goalkeeper Daniel Iversen will return to parent club Leicester… you might be able to get him back if you’re in the Championship when football resumes, but I don’t know if I’d fancy Lewis Price as a deputy at that level. Work needed in the goalkeeping department?

Jack: I would agree with that & I’m not a fan of Price. I’m sure that in the Championship we would try & get Iversen for a further season but I doubt Leicester see him in Div 1 for a further year. Warne seems to be fond of loaning young goalkeepers and he likes a goalkeeper who comes off his line so I suspect his scouts will already have an eye on young probably European tall keepers. We have a good record of this with Marek Rodak developing over 2 seasons at the Millers into the Fulham first choice keeper. We also have a youth team keeper called Lawrence Bilboe who needs a chance to develop a career at point.

Josh: With Iversen unlikely to return if we aren’t promoted to the championship and Lewis price being nothing more than back up although given his contract will be this June the goalkeeping department definitely needs work, I’m not sure who we could sign without knowing our budget but I’m sure Andy Warrington will constantly be in contact with the scouts and will also be watching games and clips of keepers in L1, Premier league academies, championship and possibly Europe. I imagine price and Bilboe will sign new contracts (with Bilboe going out on loan) but a new first choice keeper will be brought in

Adam Thompson starred in the division below with Bury as a centre-back – in the middle of a back-three as well – and yet eight of his nine starts for your lot have come at right-back. He might not give you the pace and drive of Mathew Olosunde, but is he somebody Warne would have no qualms turning to if needed?

Jack: We are more solid with him at Right back but of course we lose Olosunde’s pace and attacking instincts. Thompson started poorly but then played excellently. It’s not a bad position to be in to have a choice of players for that position. Thompson is also useful at set pieces which has always been hugely important for a Warne team.

Josh: As much as Warne and Barker love Matt Olosunde – and he’s improved not only as player but as a person since signing in the summer – we need to remember he still only young and it’s his first season playing proper men’s football so there is still question marks about him defensively so there are games where Warne possibly trusts Thompson at right back more especially when going up against a tricky or experienced winger. He gives us a bit more defensive solidity plus he’s another leader and a threat in both boxes when defending and attacking set pieces.

Michael Ihiekwe has been the most aerially commanding centre-back in League One this season. Would you expect him to fare better in the Championship next time around?

Jack: Absolutely. For the second half of our Championship season he improved massively especially after his loan spell at Accrington Stanley. This year he has been immense. He is commanding in the air, tackles well, has good positional strength & has improved his passing. Just before the season paused we lost him to injury which would have been a huge blow. He will be fit for any restart. He is still a good age & will play at a higher level again, hopefully with us.

Josh: I’ve run out of positive things to say about Michael Ihiekwe since returning from his loan spell at Accrington Stanley, he was very good for us in the championship and he’s just seemed to go from strength to strength this season, his leadership and communication skills have come on no end since being partnered alongside the magic man Richard Wood. If we are promoted to the championship then I can see him faring relatively well alongside Curtis Tilt or another centre-half if we are to bring one in, we seem to have been more defensively solid (although we’ve still made the odd error at the back at the wrong times).

Richard Wood is, of course, a Rotherham legend but I feel his last two Championships seasons have shown he’s no longer second-tier material, which would leave Ihiekwe, Clark Robertson and Curtis Tilt. That would be a good selection of options for League One, but if you were to be promoted, would a lack of Championship pedigree concern you?

Jack: A lack of Championship quality would concern me all across the park to be fair. Wood is probably a good comparator for the playing staff, strong in Div 1, struggles in the Champ. Ihiekwe & Robertson are the best of the others. Fair to say we haven’t seen the best of Tilt yet who has excellent attributes on paper so he may well come good. As ever recruitment will be key going forward.

Josh: The magic man is a Millers legend; he’s gone from being a squad player at best to being a key player under Warne and scoring 2 goals at Wembley giving him his legend status. I wouldn’t trust him on the pitch in the championship anymore although he’s still a key figure for the defenders on the training pitch passing on his valuable experience. Icky, Robbo and Tilt may have not played many championship games and that is obviously a slight worry with the lack of experience and Championship experience but given our budget could we sign a younger, better version of Richard Wood? I’m not so sure at the moment. I’m sure the recruitment team will have this in mind if Warne was to add a new defender if we are promoted to the Championship, but Warne does tend to stay loyal to his players at first and will give the likes of Icky, Robbo and Tilt a chance to prove themselves. I’m sure they will take that chance with the guidance of Wood.

Ben Wiles has put in some decent shifts at left-back, but I’d be surprised if you’d fancy him in that position at a higher level. Do you expect Warne to put his faith in Joe Mattock once again?

Jack: Most people see Wiles as a midfielder who can fill in at left-back. Mattock is first choice left-back but this has been a season of interruptions with a needless suspension and quite a few injuries. He’s developed a bad back which is never a good sign in a player of his age. He’s a Warne favourite and if a reasonable contract can be agreed with him I would expect him to be there next season.

Josh: Yeah I’d be surprised if we used Wiles at left or right-back in a higher division next season but I hope that Joe Mattock isn’t our first choice left back next season. As I’ve mentioned to you when we’ve spoken, I believe it’s time for us to not move Joe on, but to start planning on finding his replacement as his injury record seems to be getting worse and defensively he seems to be declining with opposition wingers targeting him as the weak link in our side and other Rotherham fans seem to agree. Although most Rotherham fans think he can do no wrong, he is a player that definitely divides opinion that’s for sure.

Daniel Barlaser was outstanding last year, on loan from Newcastle. When you look at how Sean Longstaff got into their first team off the back of a few good strikes for Blackpool, could Barlaser follow a similar trajectory? Do you think you might get him back if you’re in the Championship?

Jack: I hope so as he’s a pivotal part of our team or as Warne likes to call him ‘our quarterback’. It took a lot of convincing last summer to get him as he was destined for the Championship until Warne and Hamshaw charmed Newcastle with a dedicated presentation on why Rotherham was the team for him. A season of progression in the Champ may be best for Dan, particularly if Newcastle will be spending all that oil money. Whether that’s with Rotherham, who knows…..

Josh: If Newcastle’s takeover goes through then I’ll be very surprised if Daniel Barlaser is needed at the Toon, although I’d be very surprised if we got him permanently. Dan has shown on numerous occasions that he’s far to good for League One and how lucky we are to have him; after a slow start it now seems fairly obvious why he was Paul Warne’s main transfer target last summer. His range of passing and set pieces arguably makes him one of if not the best technical midfielder in the division.

Jamie Lindsay brought a three-year deal in the summer – what do you feel he’s brought to the side? Would you say he’s an all-round midfielder?

Jack: Early on he was fantastic. Sadly his season was halted when his newborn son became very ill and he has struggled to get back into the team. He is dynamic and tenacious and certainly looks like he’s got a future in the English leagues.

Josh: Jamie Lindsay brings a lot of good qualities to this side and I’m convinced that he would have been our Player of the Year if he hadn’t missed two months of the season due to a personal problem – but family always comes first. Lindsay brings energy to our midfield, he’s like a Yorkshire terrier, he’s a great tackler, brings excellent leadership qualities to the team, he might not be as good of a passer or as creative as Crooks, Wiles or Barlaser but he has 5 assists to his name, including 1 against MK Dons where his inch perfect pass played through Freddie Ladapo to make it 1-0. In his early games he showed plenty of signs that he could have been as important and better than Will Vaulks – and that is some praise

Matt Crooks has been a key threat from midfield – the fact he plays regularly when you operate with a 4-4-2 as well as a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 suggests you do not suffer too much defensively from his goal-getting instincts. Do you see him as one of the star players in the division?

Jack: He is definitely in the Team of the Year. He has tremendous pace & power and a great goal return. Probably first name on the teamsheet. He was an absolute bargain buy from Northampton last January and showed that he could play Championship football. Another player with potential resale value but I hope we keep him.

Josh: In my honest opinion, we have the two best midfielders in the division with Crooks being the best after a poor first 2 months compared to how he was in the Championship for us. Crooks has bundles of energy and stamina, his stature means he’s rarely bullied off the ball, strong in the air, and a real threat in front of goal with 11 in all competitions to his name before the season was postponed. His discipline could be a lot better with 9 yellow cards but I don’t think that worries him or Warne. It doesn’t matter if we play Crooks as a number 10 in a 4-2-3-1 or alongside Barlaser/Wiles in a 442; he always has the same positive impact and helps out defensively when defending set pieces or when the opposition has the ball in attacking areas.

Warne likes to operate with attacking wingers in Chiedozie Ogbene and Hakeeb Adelakun, latterly Josh Koroma. Has this added to the excitement factor?

Jack: Ogbene has been a revelation. He can run 100m in 10 seconds and with that pace he can tear teams apart. No one has nailed down the second wing position yet. Adelakum is clearly skilful but hasn’t clicked yet. Koroma has disappointed so far. Warne loves a winger and will definitely be looking to add strength there going forward.

Josh: Chiedozie Ogbene definitely has the excitement factor with bundles of energy and tricks which confuse defenders. Josh Koroma and Hakeeb Adelakun came to the club with promise but have failed to live up to that promise, Adelakun has shown glimpses but has been fairly inconsistent and Koroma to me seems more of an attacking midfielder/secondary striker than a winger judging from the games I’ve seen him in. I’m hoping we can bring in two new wingers for the new season and I know who I’d like to see at the club.

Freddie Ladapo is an interesting player, because he’s undeniably talented and was by some distance Plymouth Argyle’s top goalscorer last season, but he was also criticised for perceived laziness off the ball. Are those criticisms still valid at Rotherham, or has he been influenced by the working culture at the club?

Jack: He’s another dilemma. His goal return is impressive but we play better with Kyle vassell. Ladapo still shows elements of laziness but any player who keeps scoring goals with that regularity will always be in demand. In truth if you could combine that goal record with better alround play he would be worth millions

Josh: There’s no doubt Freddie Ladapo is our best finisher/goal scorer at the club his record this season proves that with 17 although he could possibly have 20. His work rate has definitely improved since joining from Plymouth last summer, does he have the work rate of the standard of Michael Smith or Kyle Vassell? No he doesn’t, but I certainly wouldn’t call him lazy and he’s constantly trying to improve as a striker and become a more all round striker it seems after having conversations with him personally. There is a small minority that don’t like Ladapo regardless of what he does it seems they just judged him off what the Plymouth fans said, which is wrong. He’s definitely embraced the Rotherham United culture and on a Instagram live video he did recently he said this along with Plymouth and Palace are the three clubs he’s enjoyed being at the most due to the support of the fans as well as his teammates and the coaching staff. He’s helped the community during the pandemic talking to fans, delivering shopping to those who weren’t allowed to leave the house as well as sending messages to fans which I’m sure will have impressed Warne as he’s big on that. He could work more off that ball but it seems the coaching staff have had a real positive impact on Ladapo as a player and as a human being.

Michael Smith is an incredibly selfless centre-forward who has a lot of wonderful qualities, but last season showed that his conversion rate, especially at Championship level, leaves something to be desired. Do you think you could add a striker who has elements of Ladapo’s finishing ability combined with elements of Smith’s hold-up play? Or are you happy to just use them both?

Jack: In fairness to him, Michael Smith in the Championship played with a broken toe for several months as our squad wasn’t strong enough to rest him after January failings to sign another striker and other injuries. Smith’s work rate and hold up play is phenomenal but he has never been a natural goal scorer, even at League One level. A striker that combines both hold up play and goals is sadly outside of our transfer budget and wage bracket. After being well beaten 5-1 by Brentford at the start of last season we generally played with one striker, packed out the midfield and tried to keep it tight. Our wingers were asked to dampen their attacking instincts and track back more. The tactics were relatively effective at home and prevented too many hammering but ultimately resulted in relegation. The club still has the scars of the disastrous 2016/17 season & I suspect if promoted we will be cautious again. The gap between the 2 divisions is immense and our finances mean that we will always be the smallest fish in a large pond whenever we are in the Championship.

Josh: No one can doubt Smudge’s work rate as he’s probably the most hard working striker in the football league and bullied many a quality Championship defender last season. I would only add a striker if we were to lose one. It will be interesting to see what formation we play next season but if we were to play with a 2 striker formation then I’d say the staff need to do a bit more work to make the Ladapo/Smith partnership work as at times they haven’t been on the same wavelength as possibly Smith and Vassell or Vassell and Ladapo. There’s no way we could afford a player that has the work rate and hold up play of Smith and the finishing of Ladapo as a player like that would cost millions which we don’t have, so I’d be happy keeping both and doing extra work on making that partnership work because if it does then I’d see us staying up comfortably in the Championship.

Regardless of the ultimate outcome, how do you reflect on the season as a whole?

Jack: Hugely enjoyable. Many of us actually prefer Div 1 seasons. Lots of great aways, standing terraces, northern teams to play, affordable ticket prices etc. But ultimately a division we can compete in. There is nothing like scoring goals and winning games to make you smile, no matter what division you are in. We’ve also played an entertaining style of aggressive attacking football. We are not a pure footballing team but Rotherham fans typically love to see a hard working, high tempo style and that is what believe we’ve played very well away from home all season due to us being able to play counter attacking style football

Josh: I’ve definitely seen this season as a positive, winning more games, being more solid defensively for good spells of the season(although I’d still like a defensive coach), playing some great football and obviously having a better work rate, we’ve signed great players which have helped us to the heights of second and top(for a couple of months) it’s just a shame that there’s a big chance we won’t get promoted now unless they promote the top 2.