Rotherham United boss Paul Warne has revealed why defender Ben Purrington was left out in the cold last weekend despite an injury to regular left-back Joe Mattock.
Mattock missed the clash at League One leaders Shrewsbury Town, where the promotion-cashing Millers won 1-0 to stretch their unbeaten run to 13 matches, because of a tight hamstring.
But Warne turned to centre-half Michael Ihiekwe to fill Mattock’s spot even though Purrington, signed for £300,000 a year ago from Plymouth Argyle, is a specialist in that position.
Ihiekwe, who helped set up Richard Wood’s winner at New Meadow, had filled in for Mattock four days before the Shrews test, coming off the bench when his teammate limped off in the first half of Rotherham’s 3-1 home triumph over Oxford United.
“I like to reward performances,” Warne said. “If Ben had been on the bench against Oxford and come on for Mattock and played well, he would have had the shirt.
“But ‘Icky’ came on, did really well, did what we asked him to do, and he deserved to keep the shirt. It’s unfortunate. But elite sport is at times.”
Purrington hasn’t played since suffering a hamstring injury at Blackburn Rovers and hasn’t made recent matchday squads despite being fit since the middle of December. His manager’s preference for Ihiekwe casts a doubt on his Millers future.
The 21-year-old travelled to Shrewsbury but, along with midfield prospect Ben Wiles, was one of the two players Warne left out of his 18. He was named in the reserves side playing at York City this afternoon.
Fourth-placed Rotherham are hoping Mattock will be available for Saturday’s AESSEAL New York Stadium South Yorkshire showdown against Doncaster Rovers. The derby is heading for a sell-out, with less than 50 tickets remaining this morning.
Warne, who gave his players a day off yesterday, praised the 1,136-strong travelling contingent who cheered the Millers to their sixth successive victory last Saturday.
“We’re in a good run of form and the fans have kindly backed the team,” he said. “The players at the end showed their appreciation. It great when people leave happy.
“My son came to the game. He’s part of the ‘hoodlums’ behind the goal. He’s had a great time.”
The Millers took a first-half lead on a terrible pitch at New Meadow, kept the Shrews at bay without too much difficulty and could have won by a greater margin.
“We were winning free-kicks and throw-ins, slowing the game down when we needed to,” Warne said. “We’re away from home. There’s no obligation from us to be super-entertaining.
“I’m happy we ground it out to the final whistle, although, honestly, I didn’t feel under massive threat in the second half.”