Rotherham United: Time to give Redfearn a proper Millers chance

Neil Redfearn
Neil Redfearn

He’s charged with changing the culture of a club looking to move in a different direction and he estimates it will take him two years.

Not six games.

Action from Millers v Ipswich

Action from Millers v Ipswich

Now isn’t the time to be judging Rotherham United manager Neil Redfearn.

The boss who took over from Steve Evans is already being criticised in some quarters, just five weeks into the job, after a nightmare run of results which has seen the Millers earn only a point in his opening half a dozen matches in charge to sit bottom of the Championship.

But he wasn’t brought in for what he might achieve in October and November. Famed for his work developing young talent and respected for the impact he made in the hot-seat amid the turbulence at Leeds United last season, he was hired with a bigger picture in mind.

A stable first team, a more settled transfer policy, tactical appreciation, a sharper way of playing and a youth set-up with better community links bringing youngsters closer to the senior set-up were all boxes Redfearn had to tick with chairman Tony Stewart before being given the job, with the ultimate target being to establish the Millers in the top half of the second tier.

Leon Best

Leon Best

After Evans and the 80-plus signings, Redfearn the rebuilder.

Rotherham won’t achieve the last one on the list without all of the others being in place first so, no matter how things might hurt for a while, give the man time.

The 50-year-old knows football and appreciates the best way to buy himself that most vital of commodities is to put points on the board as he leads Rotherham away from the Evans era.

Evans gave Rotherham three brilliant years - successive promotions and then Championship survival achieved with a game to spare - and his place in AESSEAL New York Stadium folklore is firmly secured, but Redfearn believes the squad he has inherited from his predecessor isn’t as strong as the one which stayed up last season.

Richie Smallwood

Richie Smallwood

At an awkward time between transfer windows, he is trying to add to his options with a mix of loan signings and free agents in a bid to move the Millers out of the relegation places while at the same time implementing his vision for the future.

“I think we’ve got to try to find a balance. It’s a two-year thing if you’re going to build something that’s established at this level,” he said.

“At the moment, it’s not near it. And it probably wasn’t near it last year. The league table says so. We’ve got to build something for this division that’s going to keep us in this division and make us compete at the other end.

“There’s always got to be the short-term thing because we need points now. We’ve got to get the balance right.”

Former Premier League trio centre-forward Leon Best, attacking midfielder Stephen Hunt and right-back Stephen Kelly are all training with Rotherham, and all three would strengthen the squad if they were to sign.

How Redfearn must wish that the three double-promotion heroes who left in the summer, Craig Morgan, Kari Arnason and Ben Pringle, were available to him. Instead he has pre-season signings like Greg Halford, Emmanuel Ledesma, Chris Maguire and Aidy White who haven’t shown their best form and have found themselves out of the side.

His bad luck has been to run headlong into a horrendous sequence of fixtures. All six of his matches have been against teams now 11th or higher in the division, including two of the favourites for promotion, Derby County and Middlesbrough.

Both men are now in charge of each other’s former clubs - and they go head to head this Saturday - so comparisons between Redfearn and Evans are inevitable.

Evans has quickly made his mark at Elland Road, but his baptism has been kinder - Fulham, Bolton Wanderers, Blackburn Rovers, Cardiff City and Huddersfield Town, with the Millers, Wolves, Preston North End and Nottingham Forest all up shortly.

Redfearn’s list of opponents, table-topping Hull City apart, is finally easing, with encounters against Leeds, Bristol City, Wolves, Blackburn Rovers, Huddersfield, Bolton, Fulham and Preston in the build-up to the festive period and bringing in the New Year.

These games will give a clearer indication of the club’s prospects for this season. Hopefully, the manager will have a few new faces in place beforehand and a few more points in the bag afterwards.

Key to that could be a new striker to take the pressure off Matt Derbyshire and Jonson Clarke-Harris, a regular role for midfielder Richie Smallwood - who surely won over Redfearn when he came off the bench against Ipswich Town eight days ago - and finding a way to maximise the talents of fellow midfield man Joe Newell, unfortunate to be injured when the new man took over and deprived so far of a sustained chance to shine.

Redfearn is looking to bring in experienced campaigners, players who know this division and what it takes to succeed in it, but won’t be afraid to give youth its head.

“If I look at it, we’ve got quite a strong core of young players. Some of them aren’t ours, but I like the idea of having those young players running through it,” he said,

“Tom Thorpe’s ours. We’ve got one or two who are our players who we can develop. We need to start adding others, targeting these others and getting these links with top clubs with these better players. So we’re stable. So we’re not going through this process again.

“We shouldn’t have to be going through this process. It hasn’t been planned and it’s not been structured right.”

Maybe hopes had been artificially raised by the results in Evans’ final two matches in charge - memorable victories over Cardiff City and Birmingham City.

They lifted Rotherham out of the drop zone, although it’s wrong to suggest, as some people have, that the the six-point haul left them just one more win away from the top half of the table.

The Millers, with Eric Black in temporary charge, had eight points from nine matches when Burnley came calling in the game after Evans’ departure and the home side lost 2-1 to slip from 20th to 21st place. Even if they’d won, they would have climbed only as high as 16th, barring freak margins of five goals, which would have given them 15th place, or eight goals, for 14th.

With Bristol City beating Nottingham Forest 2-0 on Friday October 16, by the time Redfearn’s first game, at Brentford, came round the following day, Rotherham were back in the bottom three, in 22nd, and a 2-1 defeat at Griffin Park saw them slide next to bottom.

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Life under Redfearn began encouragingly as the Millers performed well against the Bees and showed clear signs of progress and a more fluent way of playing in the 1-1 draw against Reading that immediately followed.

But an insipid display in a 3-0 defeat at Derby was a cause for concern, while the shock capitulation a week last Saturday at home to Ipswich that led to Rotherham being 4-0 down in 48 minutes had the boo boys, understandably, out in force.

Redfearn accepts he can’t afford performances like that if Rotherham fans are to buy into his two-year plan.

He is an honourable, straight-talking figure with a clear idea of what he wants to achieve and how to go about it, and also hard enough to make the tough decisions required to see the “process” through.

Thus, he has identified four players he deems surplus requirements and has told them they can leave, but talks of “doing right” by them by trying to fix them up with good clubs before the loan window closes next week.

Some fans have been angered by him pointing out more than once that the squad he is working with is made up of players not of his choosing. By that, he means no insult to anybody, only to highlight his desire to be allowed to stand or fall, in due course, by his own efforts.

He is a decent man deserving of a decent chance, an appointment made as a long-term answer, not a short-term fix.