Rotherham United: Star man’s memories of an unforgettable Millers season

Jonson Clarke-Harris celebrates his cracker for Rotherham against Leeds
Jonson Clarke-Harris celebrates his cracker for Rotherham against Leeds

The Star’s Rotherham United man, Paul Davis, was the only journalist to cover every Millers match, home and away last season and he put questions to manager Steve Evans more times than any other reporter. Here, he recalls some of the highlights of an amazing season of Championship survival.

‘Little snigger to yourself’ moment of the season: Sat in the Press box on opening day at a heaving iPro Stadium with more than 30,000 supporters inside. The Derby fans were bouncing, 2,700 Rotherham fans were bouncing, the sun was shining, Ronnie Moore and I were chatting and the Millers were giving the Rams a real test. “Am I really getting paid to do this?” I remember thinking. The answer was: “Not a great deal, but yes.”

Cunning plan: Steve Evans’ intention on the eve of the Millers’ visit to Norwich City. “We’re going there to get at them and to steal some of Delia’s recipes. Me and Paul Raynor are going to have a right Sunday lunch.”

Steve Evans’ second best food quote: Said the Rotherham boss in festive mood before playing Wigan on December 20 and after speaking to their new manager, Malky Mackay: “I’ve had phone chat with Malky. And, no, despite what you might be thinking, I wasn’t talking about selection boxes.”

The ‘did that really just happen?’ moment: Adam Collin’s triple save at Norwich. Think Gordon Banks on steroids. The press lads were still trying to make sense of it, never mind Canaries striker Cameron Jerome who was the chief victim of Collin’s heroics, when Rotherham broke straight downfield and won a penalty converted by Paul Green.

The ‘did that really just happen?’ moment II: Collin’s air-shot against Blackpool which let in the Seasiders for a completely undeserved late equaliser at AESSEAL New York Stadium in early December. From the sublime at Carrow Road to the ridiculous here.

Top companion: My Star predecessor, Sir Les Payne, who is supposedly retired but can’t keep away from anything Rotherham United. Livened up many a long car or train trip with his Millers musings and endless quiz questions. Sometimes I just pretended to be asleep to avoid them, which was a real problem when I was driving. Calls a game better than any journalist I’ve ever encountered and always happy to share his expertise. Top bloke.

Sad to see him go award: Millers physio Dennis Circuit. Loved by everyone at the club, particularly the players on whom he worked his magic touch. Coaxed out of retirement last year but he’s adamant he’s done this time. Hope he still turns up at New York because you won’t meet a more decent or genuine man.

Sad to see him go award II: Photographer Paul Wickson who provided pictures for this media outflet from many of his 700-plus Millers matches. Took photos for The Star, talked for England. And now and again it was actually interesting. Notorious for setting off for games ridiculously early. Rumour has it his missus, Sandra, forced him out of the house. Another great character. Enjoy retirement, Mate.

Classiest touch: The half-time cheeseboard for the press at the iPro Stadium.

Loan signing Emi Martinez

Loan signing Emi Martinez

Classiest touches: Any number by Leicester City forward Tom Lawrence during his Millers loan spell in December.

Hardest shot: Two contenders - Jonson Clarke-Harris’s free-kick at Elland Road on Saturday and the sweetest-struck effort I saw all year, Reece James’ long-range half-volley in the 2-1 win at Wigan Athletic just before Christmas. Clarke-Harris’s strike actually broke the ball while reports from Wigan say the Latics player James’ effort hit is still down on the DW Stadium turf receiving treatment.

Team of the season: This is based purely on the performances I saw in person against the Millers, not ones I watched on TV (or on Sky Plus on Sunday morning when I’d had a couple of Saturday-night beers and fallen asleep before the Football League Show came on). It’s a 4-4-1-1 formation.

GK: David Button (Brentford). Pulled off world-class saves at New York and at Griffin Park to deny the Millers points. After the 2-0 home defeat against the Bees was about the angriest I saw Evans all season, but he still acknowledged Button’s heroics.

Staying up, 100 per cent. They’re too strong

Mick McCarthy’s perfect prediction on Millers’ survival hopes

RB: Simon Francis (Bournemouth). Big, strong, quick, and good at everything.

CH: Steve Cook (Bournemouth). One of those centre-halves who manages to get something on everything, head, foot, toe, whatever. Nothing went past him, and a threat in the opposition box too.

CH: Richard Stearman (Wolves). Looks too skinny for the rigours of the Championship, but played Rotherham’s attack almost on his own in the first half at Molineux. Good on the deck and in the air.

LB: Craig Forsyth (Derby County). Ditto Simon Francis.

RM: Yanic Wildschutt (Middlesbrough). Produced at stunning performance at New York, full of pace, power, good crossing and a wonder-goal then disappeared almost without trace. Boro barely started him again.

CM: Almen Abdi (Watford). Hardly wasted a ball and kept pinching it off Rotherham at Vicarage Road. Lewis McGugan came close to a place. Sheffield Wednesday wouldn’t have won the New York derby without him.

Nottingham Forest's Michail Antonio (left) and Derby County's Craig Forsyth

Nottingham Forest's Michail Antonio (left) and Derby County's Craig Forsyth

CM: Kevin McDonald (Wolves). Worst haircut in the league, with an honourable mention here for Bournemouth’s Matt Richie, and one of the best talents. Always available to take possession, rarely gives the ball away and can spot and play a long or short killer pass. Excellent in both matches against the Millers

LM: Michail Antonio (Nottingham Forest). Doesn’t have a left foot to speak off, but pace and power to burn and a nightmare to handle when cutting inside on to his favoured right. Forest’s sole threat at New York and scored one of the goals of the season against the Millers at the City Ground.

That ‘No 10’ role: Yann Kermorgant (Bournemouth). Link play simply stunning in the Cherries’ FA Cup win at New York.

CF: Patrick Bamford (Middlesbrough). Didn’t have a good match in either game against the Millers and scored in both. Enough said.

Best away trip: The wins at Wigan and Huddersfield stand out, but Fulham was a personal highlight. A lovely walk along the bank of the Thames and through Bishops Park in the evening sunshine and an atmospheric ground, in a well-heeled part of town, with so much history it’s a listed building. It helped that the Millers took the Cottagers apart in the first half too!

Best Millers’ away following: The Rotherham fans were out in force all season. Brilliant at Derby, Wigan, Huddersfield and Fulham, with the backing at Norwich and Bolton not far behind.

Best away fans at New York: Birminham City. By a mile. Packed the away end and sang their hearts out. Loud and deservedly proud. Even Millers supporters were praising them on fans’ forums afterwards. Middlesbrough’s following was the next best.

Surreal moment: Walking bleary-eyed through Doncaster Rail Station at 1.30am after the Fulham match to see World Cup Final referee Howard Webb, in his red Rotherham cap, chanting away with some of the Millers’ travelling hardcore.

Best signing: Richie Smallwood. One of the best central midfielders in the Championship.

Best loan signing of the season: Evans’ recuitment got better and better as the season wore on. Arsenal goalkeeper Emi Martinez made a massive difference to the Millers’ defence in the last six weeks of the campaign. Right-back Jack Hunt did really well too, while December signings Tom Lawrence and Emmanuel Ledesma added class and danger at an important time.

Best look on his face: “Are you worried about the threat of Britt Assombalonga?” Millers No 2 Paul Raynor was asked by a radio guy on the eve of the Nottingham Forest clash, three weeks after the striker had been ruled out for the season. To his eternal credit, Raynor gave a good-natured answer about Rotherham being boosted by his absence.

Millers ‘nice guy’: Departed duo Alex Revell and Joe Skarz are two of the best people you will ever meet in football. Revell signed a birthday card for my 70-year-old season-ticket-holding mum and, nine months on, she’s still having guided tours of her house to show it to her friends. There isn’t a bad egg among the first-team squad, to be honest. They’re all decent lads. Lee Frecklington is probably the one you’d most like to date your sister.

Best prediction: “Staying up. 100 per cent. They’re too strong.” Ipswich boss Mick McCarthy on the Millers’ survival prospects after his side had been beaten by them 2-0 in February.

Bravest act: The reporter who wished McCarthy a happy birthday as the Town manager sat there with a face like thunder.

Worst luck: Kari Arnason at Watford, when he slipped over in the first half to gift the Hornets their first goal. It didn’t help that ‘I’m Still Standing’ by former Watford owner Elton John had been playing in the ground half an hour earlier.

Best individual performance by a Miller: Centre-half Craig Morgan in the 1-1 draw at Charlton. It was the only time I awarded a player 10/10, although Arnason and Smallwood came close on a couple of occasions.

Best moment: The final whistle against Reading which meant survival was guaranteed. I make a point of trying to show as little emotion as possible in the press box. Suffice it to say, on this occasion I ruined the live voiceover by the guy from Rother FM who was sitting next to me.

Non-Millers moment I wish I’d been there for: Leeds supporters, after pulling back to 1-1 at home to Cardiff, who had taken no fans in protest over their ticket allocation, chanting: “You’re not singing anymore.”

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Steve Evans welcomes his Ipswich counterpart Mick McCarthy to the New York Stadium

Steve Evans welcomes his Ipswich counterpart Mick McCarthy to the New York Stadium

Delia Smith tells Steve Evans what time his tea will be ready

Delia Smith tells Steve Evans what time his tea will be ready