Hartlepool United v Rotherham United: Paul Warne eyes Wembley tonic

Right now Rotherham United could just do with a little pepping up, so in that respect at least, the chance to win a trip to Wembley could scarcely be better timed.

Although it had not shown in results until Saturday’s 2-1 defeat to in-form Milton Keynes Dons, performances have been a little jaded lately and now injuries are starting to take hold up front.

Will Grigg is out for the season, Freddie Ladapo for over a month, and Josh Kayode and Georgie Kelly, who had been expected to make his Millers’ debut, are doubts for tonight’s Football League Trophy semi-final at Hartlepool United.

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Most crushingly, Covid-19 has ruled former forward Ronnie Moore, who managed both clubs, out of commentary duty. Strange though it sounds, the team top of League One could do with a lift. With Rarmani Edmonds-Green and Mickel Miller fit again, manager Paul Warne will try to provide it by shuffling his pack but it is a delicate balancing act.

Millers boss Paul Warne. Picture: Steve Ellis

If he gets it right, an April trip to Wembley to face Sutton United, who beat Wigan Athletic after a penalty shootout last night, is sure to provide a shot in the arm, even more so says Warne for family members.

“Going to Wembley is something else,” says Warne, who has won play-off finals as a Rotherham player and manager, and the FA Vase with Diss Town. “In a weird way I think it’s like the players’ and staff’s message to their family to say all the sacrifices were worth it. If you took your kid to training three nights a week for 10 years, to see your kid play at Wembley or your brother or your dad is just literally priceless.

“I’ll tell my players this again today, that’s the gift that they’re playing for. There’s no greater gift that you can give to your family than that enjoyment.”

On the injuries, Warne said: “(Ladapo)’s got a pretty severe tear in the top of his quad so we’ll be missing him for a long period. It will be greater than a month.

“Jamie Lindsay’s had an injection in his shoulder but hopefully he should be okay. JJ (Kayode)’s had a swollen knee, George (Kelly) has bit of a problem in his calf.”

The return of Edmonds-Green after January’s hamstring injury, should put a smile on faces.

“He’s a little bit like Trigger off Only Fools and Horses – one of them naturally funny people without even knowing it – but he’s a very good player and the lads know that so it is a massive boost,” says Warne. “Mickel brings us something really powerful down the left.

“When players are injured, they’re always better than you remember. You say, ‘When he’s back, we’re laughing,’ and then you think, ‘Oh but when he comes back, we’re really good!’

“But REG has had a brilliant season for us and only lost three games (he was a substitute for one). We haven’t rushed him back because there was no point taking any risks when we were winning every week. To have him back now with 10 league games left and maybe three play-off games is good news. Over recent weeks I don’t think we’ve been performing at our excellent best but we have been winning.

“When you’re winning you think, ‘I could just do with taking Ollie (Rathbone) out and resting his legs a bit or Wilesey (Ben Wiles) but they’ve been so important it’s always a thin line between freshness and reliability. There’s a constant mixing of the bowl.

“I think we do need a bit of fresh blood. The pitches have been so wet recently, the training pitches too, and everyone has looked a little more fatigued. Maybe that’s just my imagination but the standard of play – apart from if you watched Huddersfield-Nottingham Forest – in a few leagues has looked a little bit down.”

Last six games: Hartlepool United WLWDWW; Rotherham United LDWWDW

Referee: R Madley (Huddersfield)

Last time: Hartlepool United 1 Rotherham 2, November 12, 2013, Football League Trophy