Rotherham United: How the Millers have revived the career of Michael Smith
Manager Paul Warne has revealed the secret behind in-form striker Michael Smith's transformation from Bury misfit to Millers main man.
The 6ft 4in targetman scored only one goal in 19 league appearances for the Shakers before arriving at AESSEAL New York Stadium in the January transfer window.
Since then, he has led the Rotherham line superbly, hitting the target five times in just nine starts as the Millers have cemented their spot in the League One play-off places.
Warne, whose fourth-placed side are at Southend United on Saturday, says Smith’s willing to embrace the club’s work ethic is at the centre of his new-found success.
“I thought if we could get Smudge on board and he could buy in to what we’re trying to do, we could get a lot more out of him,” Warne said.
“When I went to meet him, I knew he was a really good bloke. The strikers here are told they have to work really hard.
“I signed him because I knew what potential he had. No disrespect to Smudge, but I don’t think he’s done it consistently at any club before. He has every attribute to be a great striker. He’s mobile, he’s got good feet.”
Smith had been at 11 clubs before joining Rotherham and had enjoyed only one really productive spell, at Swindon Town between 2014 and 2016.
The 26-year-old scored in last week’s 3-0 win at Northampton Town during a man-of-the-match performance and Warne believes the player has found his “spiritual home” with the Millers.
“The fact he was running back at Northampton last week virtually to the edge of his own box at times to help the team out was pretty impressive,” the boss said.
“If you take away his goals and workrate up top, his defensive contribution has been excellent. He hasn’t surprised me. He’s living up to the potential we saw in him and long may that continue.
“I think some players find spiritual homes. We’re pretty good with strikers here. We got the best out of Kieffer (Moore). Bally (David Ball) knows the game anyway.”
Rotherham, who have won eight of their last 10 matches, will be without goalkeeper Marek Rodak at Roots Hall.
Rodak is away with Slovakia on international duty and Lewis Price will come in for his first league outing of the season.
“I’m happy with Pricey,” Warne said. “He’s probably, for shot-stopping, the most outstanding keeper we’ve got.”
Striker Caolan Lavery, a regular substitute since his loan move from Sheffield United in January, has been absent this week because of sickness but may be fit enough to resume training tomorrow.
Southend, beaten 5-0 at New York in August, have picked up under new boss Chris Powell and are 13th in the table.
Rotherham and Joe Newell are still in talks over a new contract. Warne said there is no degree of urgency as the club have an option to extend the winger’s present deal in the summer anyway.