Rotherham United v Cheltenham Town: Millers have strength in depth to handle backlog

IN light of frustrating recent events, Rotherham United are desperate to get going again today but are also acutely aware of the threat Cheltenham Town may pose.

Having gone 21 games unbeaten in all competitions, Rotherham have now lost two of their last three League One contests, including a surprise 1-0 defeat at Fleetwood Town last Saturday.

It means they have lost top spot but they hoped to quickly bounce back against Lincoln City on Tuesday only to see that contest postponed at late notice due to a frozen pitch in South Yorkshire.

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Paul Warne’s side will, at least, be fresh for this afternoon’s outing but the Millers manager remains wary of the visitors, especially given the manner in which they have strengthened their squad in the January transfer window.

Granted, Cheltenham sit 14th in League One and have not won since November 23 but Michael Duff’s side have produced three successive 1-1 draws at Oxford and against Burton Albion and Charlton to show their increasingly competitive nature.

“I really like Michael,” said Warne, about the former Northern Ireland defender who was raised in Bedale, North Yorkshire and, remarkably, played 300 games for Cheltenham as well as 300-plus for Burnley.

“I don’t think I’ve ever played against him before and if I have I apologise as he’ll probably be hugely offended.

“But when I met him I did really like him. Michael and Russell Milton have done a really good job there, got Cheltenham in the play-offs, then got them promoted (last year) and now they are doing really well in League 1.

Rotherham United manager Paul Warne: Respect for visitors.

“In fairness, they’ve made six or seven signings in this window and are trying to push up the table and they can.

“They are in a good position but what I don’t think people understand is possibly how well they play the system they play. They’ve been playing five at the back which is difficult to break down.

“But we’ve watched the last three games and they have done really well. They were easily better than Charlton and should have beaten them.

“They played really well against Burton and they drew and, in fairness to the Rotherham fans seeing this, Burton could have beaten us when we played them at home.

Michael Smith celebrates his second goal against Bolton Wanderers on New Year's Day. ( Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

“And they drew away at Oxford, which we did. So these aren’t easy games.

“This Cheltenham side is a really good side, full of confidence, full of new signings – they’ve just signed that Charlie Colkett – so they’ll come here wanting to play and wanting to win.

“I honestly think it’ll be a really tough game. We’re going to have to be at our very best because we’re playing against a team that might come into it on paper as underdogs but both managers know it will be a really close one.”

Tuesday was the second time the Lincoln fixture was postponed, its original date of December 29 called off due to Covid issues in the visitors’ ranks.

Michael Smith and Rotherham aiming high (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

Warne admitted it was “not ideal” but nothing could be done to ease the situation.

He is concerned about a potential fixture pile-up, especially given his knowledge of how detrimental that was last year.

The Millers suffered two Covid outbreaks and ended up playing nine games in April, a backlog which ultimately led to their relegation from the Championship.

Warne feels he would be better prepared for that eventuality if it occurred this term.

“I think what we did learn was that last year was we probably didn’t have the strength in depth we do now and we kept putting the same players out because they were our best players,” he continued.

“This time around, I have got more ability to move things around and even if we win I know if we have to change a winning side.

“That is what it has taught me; last year I should have put more trust in the peripheral whereas this year they have already got my trust so they are a step ahead.”