Rotherham United: Massive match as Millers look for goals

Steve Evans
Steve Evans

We seem to say the same thing every week this season, but the next match for Rotherham United is huge.

Bolton Wanderers at home tomorrow night. A chance for points, along with Saturday’s trip to a Charlton side sliding down the Championship table, before a daunting run of fixtures.

It says much about the challenges the second tier throws at you that the Millers are targeting this match as one they can win when the visitors, rejuvenated under new boss Neil Lennon, have lost only one of their last 10 league games and held Liverpool to a goalless draw in the FA Cup on Saturday. At Anfield.

After the Addicks, February brings Ipswich at home, Blackburn away, Derby at home, Wolves away and Watford away. Five matches against teams all chasing a play-off spot, and in some cases going for the top two.

Millers manager Steve Evans, busy already in the January transfer window as he looks to improve his squad while trimming its size to around 20 players, won’t take shy away from the challenge. It’s not in his nature.

Where would he rather be? Scrapping like mad at the bottom end of the Championship or engineering a play-off push towards the top of League One?

Let’s just say he wouldn’t swap places with Sheffield United’s Nigel Clough, cup runs and all.

But he knows the Millers need to improve on a record of one win since October 17 to avoid dropping into the relegation zone.

Loan signings Tom Lawrence, Emmanuel Ledesma, Scott Wootton and Reece James perked up the Millers no end during an unbeaten December as Evans introduced a new pass-and-move approach.

All have since departed and now the new class of 2015, Conor Sammon, Adam Hammill, Danny Ward, Jack Barmby and Zeki Fryers, all need to make their presence felt.

When the Millers did battle with Bolton on a Tuesday night back in September it offered up a microcosm of how their season has since unfolded - doing well and showing signs of real promise only to then find themselves dragged back.

They led 1-0 at half-time at the Macron Stadium through Anthony Wordsworth and a home crowd sick of the struggles under then-boss Dougie Freedman had turned on their side.

Had Paul Taylor’s early-second-half curling effort gone in for 2-0 rather than come crashing back off the woodwork, the Millers fans’ chants of “You’re getting sacked in the morning” directed at the hapless Wanderers boss would have doubtless come true.

Instead, Bolton rallied and a quickfire hat-trick from Joe Mason – who chose this match to score three of the four goals of his 14-match loan spell from Cardiff City – turned things around and earned Freedman a brief stay of execution.

Wordsworth looked to have earned a point in the dying seconds but his back-heeled finish from Paul Green’s cross was ruled out by a marginal though correct offside. So near, so far.

Like huge games, fine margins have been a recurring theme this season.

Mason is one player the Millers don’t have to worry about tomorrow. Injury has cut short his time with the Trotters and the young striker returned to his parent club last week.

Another who will miss out is former Rotherham hot-shot Adam Le Fondre.

Le Fondre – fondly known as Alfie by all Millers fans after his scoring exploits between 2009 and 2011 when his 58 goals came at a rate of more than one every two games – will join Bolton on loan this week.

But the red tape surrounding Mason’s return to Cardiff means fellow Bluebirds striker Le Fondre won’t become a Wanderers player until after tomorrow night.

Outside of the play-off places, only Sheffield Wednesday have conceded less goals than Rotherham’s 33 in 26 games. Against that, in the entire division no team has scored fewer than the Millers’ 21.

It’s obvious where the main problem lies.

In his bid to address it, Evans has gone for four players with an attacking thrust in his five January signing so far, and he is on record as saying one of the two targets for whom the club have made bids is a someone with “a track record for scoring a goal”.

Evans says the pressure on every manager, wherever they are in the Championship, is huge, and, despite being pleased with the effort and commitment his team shows, acknowledges points have to be put on the board.

It’s a sobering statistic - and grim testament to the truth of Evans’ statement about pressure - that of all the teams in the bottom half of the Champiomship only two - the Millers and Millwall - haven’t changed their manager since the season began.

Evans enjoys and very much appreciates the backing of one of the best and most astute chairmen in the game in Tony Stewart, but the harsh fact of life is that the club, no matter how well run it is, simply can’t compete with the giant fees and wages paid out by many clubs in Europe’s fifth biggest league.

Premier League babies - like Lawrence and Barmby - fringe players at rival Championship clubs who Evans sees something in when others perhaps don’t - like Ledesma and Hammill - and lower-league gems who can make the step up … these are the areas where the Rotherham boss has to operate.

As February draws to a close, the Millers will have done battle with some of the division’s top teams and hopefully the bulk of Evans’ new signings will have worked out.

They have to if the club are to achieve his stated aim of delivering Championship football again next season.

The month ends with a New York Stadium showdown against Millwall, one of the clubs currently below Rotherham in the table.

Now that really could be a huge game.