Millers better equipped to oust Orient than ’99 vintage

Paul Hurst.
Paul Hurst.
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MENTION the two words Leyton Orient to Rotherham United record appearance holder Paul Hurst and chances are you will receive a dark look.

The club legend turned out 497 times for the Millers over 15 seasons and pretty much saw it all.

From champagne promotion moments and an Auto Windscreens Shield victory at Wembley to the lows of relegation and near extinction for the club who have grown close to his heart.

As for his lowest personal moment in the red and white, that arrived one Spring night at Millmoor just over 15 years ago against the O’s, who the Millers face in the League One play-off 
final at Wembley on Sunday.

It is a moment that the 39-year-old, currently managing Skrill Premier side Grimsby Town, can still recall vividly and painfully.

After 210 tense minutes of football failed to yield so much as a goal – the only time a Football League play-off semi-final tie has ended goalless after two games – penalties decided who would make it to Wembley.

It was Hurst and his then team-mate Andy Roscoe who would be the ones remembered by the home faithful who packed into Millmoor that midweek evening.

But for all the wrong reasons with the pair seeing their spot-kicks saved by Scott Barrett, with Orient converting all four past Mike Pollitt to book a final berth with a 4-2 success on penalties.

The Millers of today have their chance at redemption as they seek a second-tier return for the first time since 2004-05, while you must go back to 1981-82 for the last time the O’s played there.

Hurst, who joined the Millers from school, wishes his old club all the luck in the world and, if it goes to penalties, expect the memories to flood back. Not that they have really gone away.

He said: “You don’t really want to remember, but it will never go away for me. Thankfully for me, we got promoted the year 
after and I played my part and that eased it slightly, I suppose.

“Every time I watch these games that go to penalties, I perhaps feel just that little bit more for the players who miss.

“At Grimsby, we have been through the play-offs in the past couple of seasons and been involved in penalty shoot-outs in the Trophy and you practise penalties. I can certainly understand what players are going through.

“Ultimately, you can have all the plans in the world and practise; that’s great. But it’s rare you get a chance to practise after having played 120 minutes and step up in front of a big crowd. You can’t replicate it and it’s obviously a talking point with England with the World Cup.”

Hurst did lay his penalty ghost, netting in a 4-2 penalty shoot-out win against Wolves in the League Cup at Millmoor in October 2002 – that ended 4-4 after extra-time.

He also converted at Highbury in a crazy 9-8 shoot-out loss to Arsenal in the same competition in the autumn of 2003, a game famous for the debut of a 16-year-old called Cesc Fabregas.

Hurst is hoping the dreaded penalty lottery doesn’t decide proceedings on Sunday and if his old side display the attacking verve they have shown in a season to remember, he feels Steve Evans’s troops won’t have much to fear. He said: “Sunday’s game points towards an exciting one. I don’t think it will be defensive and could be a good spectacle for the neutral. If Rotherham can play as they did against Preston, I’d say they will be quietly confident and have no fear.

“They have had two great years whatever happens on Sunday, but hopefully they can turn this year into a really special one.”

This weekend sees the Millers attempt to emulate Ronnie Moore’s class of the early Noughties, who claimed back-to-back promotions to the second tier, a level they resided at for four seasons before making the return journey to the basement.

The heroics of Moore in keeping the Millers up for three successive seasons on what amounted to a shoestring budget compared to many rivals – and taking a host of famous scalps along the way – represented the club’s most golden time since the early eighties under first Ian Porterfield and then Emlyn Hughes, when Rotherham enjoyed a brief place in the sun in the second tier.

A third glorious chapter awaits if United go up this weekend.

If that transpires, Hurst sees no reason why they cannot establish themselves for a good few years, with the club blessed with the stability and resources that they were not really afforded in the early Eighties and Noughties.

He said: “Rotherham is a massively different club now and is far better equipped to go into the Championship with a new ground. They also needed that investment from Tony Stewart into the playing side and while it’s a bit of a jump if they go up, I don’t see why they won’t have a real chance of establishing themselves.

“While we had four years there, every year we were just thinking, ‘Can we survive?’ I suppose it might be the first ambition and target of Rotherham now, but I think there’s genuine ambitions in place to build on promotion and become an established Championship team.

“They are in a far better place than we were. Everything is geared up for the Championship and they are very progressive.

“You need a stadium which creates revenue throughout the week and year and that stadium can and it just shows what can happen if you get on a bit of a roll.

“The younger fans in Rotherham will now probably look back and think: ‘What were the problems’?.

“There were a lot of problems, but while I experienced a lot in my time there, the memories were mainly good ones.”