Back with the banter as Rotherham United return to happy hunting ground

You can talk about skill, drama, passion, highfalutin tactics and all the other things that make football great but sometimes you just cannot beat a bit of pantomime.

Michael Ihiekwe of Rotherham United powers in a header on the Plymouth goal. Picture: Gary Longbottom

Eighteen miserable months have largely deprived us of that with supporters locked out of grounds but now it seems, it’s behind us.

Almost as soon as the curtain came up on 2021-22, it played its part as Rotherham United got their League One campaign off to a winning start.

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The game was only 10 minutes old when the 1,102 Plymouth Argyle fans chanted “Freddie Ladapo, you’ll always be s***!” as the Millers prepared to take a corner. Ladapo scored 18 League One goals for Argyle in 2018-19 but as soon as you join another club, you go from goal-scoring genius to... well, not very good.

As both sets of players scrambled to put a boot on the corner, it fell into space a couple of yards out. Ladapo tapped it home, oh yes he did, then cupped his ear towards the away fans. The next time Rotherham won a corner at that end, they kept schtum.

Ladapo’s goal set Rotherham on the way to a 2-0 win and the wide grin on his face when he spoke to the media afterwards showed it had all been good, harmless fun.

“I’d been getting it all week,” he laughed. “I’d been getting restless nights, not because of them but you just want to stick it back to them. When we got the corner they were calling me all sorts of names, saying you’re not good enough, you’re not this and that.

“I get it, it’s just to put someone off but it feels nice to give it back to them in that way. Some of the Plymouth fans wanted to jump over and fight me!”

Ladapo’s manager, Paul Warne, clearly a more sensitive soul, had warned what was coming in his first appearance against Plymouth.

“Every time I played against my old club I had the driest mouth but Freddie’s a lot cooler than me,” he said.

“I had no issue with it,” said Ladapo. “As a player, you’re playing for the team you’re representing so you’ve got to do your best for that team.”

If the fans of both sides in a 9,417 crowd were a big factor, so was the clinical edge Rotherham showed in the first half before returning to last season’s more charitable disposition.

Problems at the turnstiles before kick-off had not dampened the enthusiasm of fans desperate to get behind 11 players relegated last season. Warne’s new signings were all on the bench.

Wes Harding was defending solidly and threading some nice passes but grew in stature after the reception for some brilliant defending at the byline with 12 minutes to go.

“You can see faces, not just empty seats, and it feels good,” said Ladapo. “It gives you that extra bit of edge and it’s wonderful.

“In pre-season games, I’m sure they were watching for a nice Saturday afternoon whereas now they were excited, jumping, buzzing, ecstatic.”

Warne’s selection played up to it, genuine wingers Chiedozie Ogbene and Mickel Miller at wing-back, and Ladapo partnered by another out-and-out centre-forward in Michael Smith.

“There are games, particularly at home, where I feel we can be more aggressive with our team selection,” reasoned Warne. “We want to try to be on the front foot.

“Would I have played two wingers as wing-backs if our first game had been against, say, Nottingham Forest? Possibly not. Hopefully, we’ll have the ball a bit in League One and playing wingers give us a little bit more teeth.

“I hope it gives the fans more to get behind.”

Plymouth were happy to trade punches, but Rotherham’s landed. Ben Wiles spooned his shot from a Dan Barlaser pull-back but when Smith gave him a chance to try again late in the first half, the finish was beautiful.

Viktor Johansson tipped Jordan Houghton’s effort over at 1-0 and Argyle had a few sniffs at goal either side of half-time but when they failed to take them it became a question of if Rotherham could get a third. They could not.

League One looks tough this season and others, not least Sheffield Wednesday, have thrown their weight around in the transfer market. Warne is still hoping for a left-back and a striker to add to Josh Chapman, Shane Ferguson, Ollie Rathbone, Hakeem Odoffin and Rarmani Edmonds-Green but the club that won promotion in its last three third-tier seasons are only fifth favourites with its sponsors.

“Those clubs show people they have big ambitions, they’re statement clubs, but we show the know-how of being in and around it and we’ve done well,” argued Ladapo. “We have a lot of firepower and spirit so I think we’re going to have a good season. I’m hoping for automatic (promotion), I’m not really liking these play-offs.”

It was a good first act.

Rotherham United: Johansson; Harding, Wood, Ihiekwe; Ogbene, Lindsay, Barlaser (Rathbone 59), Wiles (Odoffin 76), Miller (Ferguson 83); Smith, Ladapo. Unused substitutes: Chapman, Edmonds-Green, Sadlier, Kayode.

Plymouth Argyle: Cooper; Wilson, Scarr, Gillesphey; Edwards, Camara, Houghton, Mayor (Broom 63), Grant (Randell 76); Hardie, Jephcott (Shirley 76). Unused substitutes: Burton, Galloway, Law.

Referee: S Stocksbridge (Tyne and Wear).