Rotherham United v Blackburn Rovers - Stars are aligning in Millers’ cause

ASKED about his golfing prowess after recently taking up the pastime as a hobby, Rotherham United assistant-manager Richie Barker described himself as ‘bang average.’

Keeping in the theme of the ‘gentlemen’s sport’, Barker’s Millers side find themselves stuck off the fairway with no easy get-out shot as they approach the home straight of their Championship season.

They will need to be better than average to get out of their current situation in the relegation rough.

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A few improvised shots in the best traditions of the late, great Seve Ballesteros – the tenth anniversary of his passing arrives next week – may have to be the order of the day – alongside a bit of overdue luck.

Richie Barker: Believes Millers can stay up.  Picture: Bruce Rollinson
Richie Barker: Believes Millers can stay up. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

Barker still lives in hope ahead of Rotherham’s final three matches.

He said: “We had a conversation (this week) and I won’t go into it too much. But I have a way that I think we are going to actually stay up.

“I believe it is going to be pretty tight, but there are a few stars which are lined up which means I actually think that I have got a way to stay up because of a few things that have happened over the last few weeks.

“The fact we have got to the last week of the season when so many people have written us off with the way we got promoted and the fact people did not believe we could cope in this league is testament to everyone who works here.”

With three games left, the Millers have little margin for error. Should they lose a sixth successive game today and Derby win, they will be relegated.

If they win and Derby slip up, it makes it interesting, with Rotherham visiting Luton in midweek and the Rams hosting another side in the relegation mix in Sheffield Wednesday on the last day. Someone will lose points there.

As Barker also well knows, strange things do happen at this time of year as he can recount from his experiences in management and a player.

His family home remains in Sussex and he is well versed in tales of former club Brighton’s ‘Great Escape’ when they avoided dropping out of the Football League thanks to a feted goal from Robbie Reinelt in a final day decider at Hereford United in May, 1997.

Barker arrived later that year at Albion. The result is still regarded as the most important in the club’s history. They are now, of course, in the Premier League.

Barker added: “All sorts of crazy stories have been written and if we pull this off, I am sure it will be right up there with Brighton.

“The majority of that team were still there when I came in and they went with the mentality in the following year of: ‘We don’t want to get through that again’ and secondly: ‘what could be worse than that…’

“Here, our challenge is to win the last three games. For us to compete at this level, everybody knows that it is difficult. However, we would rather do that than be challenging and trying to scrap to get out of League One.

“We earned the right to take this opportunity and make sure we take this to the second week in May.

“When I first went to Hartlepool, we went from 16th in November to top of the league at the end of April after going 27 games unbeaten and as an assistant manager at MK Dons, we got promoted by winning nine of our last 10.

“When I was caretaker at Bury, I won my first six games in a row and we went from sixth to second. With our aim, it’s possible and do-able, but we need a few things to turn our way. We also need a bit of luck with injuries and freshness, but I think we are due some…”

Rotherham United followers would certainly say Amen to that, more especially given some hugely controversial recent losses to the likes of Barnsley and Middlesbrough.

What can also be said for certain is that if Millers do manage to stay up, the merit of their achievements will stand tall with all the recent feats in the club’s modern-day history.

Manager Paul Warne has ventured, with justification, that it would be the best of the lot.

Former players with the club, Barker and Warne were also part of a 2001-02 side who stayed up by the skin of their teeth in the club’s first season back in the second tier since 1982-83.

Back then, there were several like-minded clubs cut from the same cloth as the Millers at that level.

It was a season when Crewe and Stockport went down, but also one which saw Gillingham finish in mid-table and Walsall and Grimsby also survive.

Now there are not so many sides whose traditional home was in English football’s third tier, making survival even more consequential and impressive.

Just as the gap to bridge for Championship clubs when they progress to the Premier League is huge, so evidence is also showing that the chasm is becoming bigger for League One outfits who jump to the second tier.

Barker said: “Last year, Charlton only played Championship football for a year (after going up in 2018-19) and a few weeks ago, the bottom three were us, Coventry and Wycombe.

“The jump is definitely far bigger than what people assume in lots of different ways – size of squad, finances available, facilities and everything you have to compete with.

“When I have conversations now and we talk about the Championship (when I played), without being disrespectful, Walsall, Grimsby and even Stockport were even there for one of those years.

“It is just totally different now and the game has changed and the pyramid which enabled us and Walsall, Gillingham and Grimsby to get up there, I don’t know if that is as simple and easy. Now it is predominantly aimed around finance and opportunities to take clubs up that level.”

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