as the countdown to the new football season draws to a close, football reporter Leon Wobschall gives his verdict on Yorkshire’s clubs and offers his five key things that each team must improve.
For Rotherham United supporters, it has been summer to enjoy with the mission of securing Championship football for another season successfully achieved after two joyous back-to-back promotions – although it was a bit of a close shave.
Now the focus turns to 2015-16 with the Millers welcoming Championship newcomers MK Dons to the AESSEAL New York Stadium on Saturday.
Both the Millers and MK are among a handful of Championship sides being written off by the bookies and tipped to struggle, but you sense that for Steve Evans and the Rotherham faithful that upsetting the odds is something that they collectively relish.
While the Millers hailed safety in the penultimate game of last season, with ecstatic scenes following the final whistle of their 2-1 victory over Reading on April 28, the hope is that they don’t sail as close to the wind again - albeit with the three-point penalty for fielding an ineligible player in loanee Farrend Rawson in the Easter Monday ‘victory’ over Brighton managing to take their seasonal fates almost right down to the wire.
But for a go-ahead chairman in Tony Stewart, you sense - make that know - that he has already quickly moved on from last season, with consolidation in the Championship and aiming higher being in his medium and long-term mindset.
Here’s five things that the Millers need to address in 2015-16.
1: Keep the back door shut with a reliable last line of defence.
For promotion hero Adam Collin, it was a mixed campaign, with the Cumbrian ‘outstanding’ in the first half of the season according to Evans, only to suffer a dip in form in the new year. The Cumbrian ended the season on the bench as back-up to loanee Emi Martinez, who endeared himself to Millers supporters with several quality displays.
The man now competing with Collin is loan keeper Kelle Roos, with the Dutch custodian arriving from Derby County on a season-long loan. The keeper is unproven at Championship level, but highly-rated back at Derby, who bought him from non-league Nuneaton Town.
Former Rams boss Steve McLaren has previously waxed lyrical about the merits of Roos, 23, who started four cup games for Derby last term and who has been understudy to the likes of Lee Grant and Jack Butland in his time in the East Midlands.
Evnas will be keen for Roos to step up and for Collin to remain on his mettle. The pair need to get the best out of each other, that’s for sure.
2: A new defensive enforcer to step up, heightened by the departure of Craig Morgan and ten-match suspension for Kirk Broadfoot.
Broadfoot’s early-season absence is untimely, given the impressive way he finished last term when Evans labelled him as a bit of an unsung hero in the Millers’ battle against the drop.
The likes of Danny Collins and Richard Wood, also vastly experienced, will seeking to fill the void at the back, with Kari Arnason having also left for pastures new.
You can also throw utility man par excellence Greg Halford and former Manchester United youngster Tom Thorpe into the Millers’ defensive mix.
There’s certainly options, with Rawson being another. The young centre-back may have claimed notoriety for events last Easter, but who also made his mark with some sound displays on loan at the Millers last term.
As for former Sheffield Wednesday defender Wood, he has been dogged with ill luck regarding injuries in his career and banking on him as a mainstay, given his record, may be risky. Although he ended last season encouragingly during a loan spell at Crawley Town.
3: The Millers need Jordan Bowery to step up to the plate on a consistent basis.
Bowery showed glimpses of his promise last season, but somewhat fleetingly, although he did end the season with a bit of a spring in his step and provided a big contribution from the bench in the key draw with promotion-chasing Norwich on April 25.
Bowery looks the part; he’s big, strong and decent in the air with a yard of pace and from what Evans says, he can be unplayable when he turns it on in training. But there’s a difference between doing that away from the limelight and turning it on when it matters: game day.
The question remains, can Bowery showcase his talents on the Championship stage on a regular basis? That remains the 64,000 dollar question – Bowery is no longer a rookie at 24. Now is the time to step up.
4: Danny Ward can be a big player for the Millers next season – and can thrive on the added responsibility.
The former Huddersfield Town player rediscovered his mojo in the latter stages of the season with the Millers and has quickly became a crowd favourite and a big player in the climatic games in the final month or so of the campaign.
With Ben Pringle having left for Fulham, his creative skills will be important and he is a proven Championship operator at his best. Ward was noticeably fitter towards the end of the season and produced some zestful performances.
Like Bowery, he is now approaching his mid-twenties and needs to realise his potential with the Millers after a hit-and-miss past few campaigns.
5: Improve their goals output on the road.
The Millers tally of 15 goals on their Championship travels last season was somewhat disappointing - and they have won just one game away from the New York Stadium so far in 2015, albeit a landmark 2-0 derby victory at Huddersfield Town on March 7.
It’s a clear area of deficiency for Evans’s side, who failed to find the net in 11 away Championship outings in 2014-15. Room for improvement.