MK Dons v Rotherham United: ‘Lucky mascot’ Stephen Kelly eager to maintain Millers’ climb to safety

Rotherham United's Stephen Kelly challenges Leeds' Chris Wood
Rotherham United's Stephen Kelly challenges Leeds' Chris Wood
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Stephen Kelly feared his season was over after suffering a freak training ground accident at Rotherham United.

Now the 32-year-old defender is the ‘lucky mascot’ who has yet to taste defeat in a Millers shirt after nine games.

For a team that has struggled for the majority of the season at the wrong end of the Championship, that unbeaten run is some achievement.

Former Tottenham defender Kelly made his Millers debut in the 1-0 win at Elland Road in November, and went on to appear in wins over Bristol City and Hull City before Christmas.

After breaking his hand and then suffering a serious knee injury in training – when he was told his season could be over – Kelly was drafted back in by new manager Neil Warnock.

In the subsequent six games in whichhe has featured, Kelly is yet to play on the losing team.

And six of Kelly’s nine outings have ended in a clean sheet for Rotherham, a side who have one of the worst defences in the Championship, shipping 64 goals in 40 games.

Asked about the record, Kelly said: “It’s something I am proud of and hopefully it can go on to the end of the season.

“Derby was a freaky game, but it probably summed up our team spirit. It was one of the weirdest games I have ever played in.

“To be 3-0 down then score three in the last seven minutes of the game was bizarre.

“It shows the fighting spirit in the club, that never-say-die attitude.

“It’s a bit of a cliche, but we are proving we have that every week.”

Kelly has been a key part of the Millers’ defence, but just playing again this season is a bonus for the former Birmingham City defender.

He said: “It’s just great to be back playing. When I first came it was so frustrating with freak injuries.

“First I broke my hand the first week training, then one of the lads fell on me and I did my knee, just bizarre. Stuff like that has happened to me throughout my career.

“It’s frustrating but I am back a lot earlier than I was supposed to be, I could have been out for the season.

“It’s just nice to be back playing, and I feel like I am getting stronger every week.

“The team is winning, not losing, which is great and hopefully I have been contributing to that.

“I have never had a problem with my knee before, but one of the lads feel on me in training,”

He said. “The first scans came back and I was possibly going to to be out for the season.

“Credit to the staff here, they have been excellent and really helped the physio. They have helped me through and got me back playing.”

Today, Rotherham will look to extend their recent unbeaten run to eight games when they travel to MK Dons.

Six weeks ago, the Millers trailed their fellow relegation battlers by six points but now lead the Dons by the same gap – a 12-point swing in fortunes. Kelly believes the impact of Warnock, and No 2 Kevin Blackwell, plus the return of key players like Lee Frecklington, is behind their recent revival.

“Our run is difficult to describe,” said Kelly.

“The gaffer coming in has instilled a bit of relief in the players.

“I said when I first signed here, there’s a lot of quality in the club. The effort they provide each week is phenomenal.

“With that drive and effort, plus the confidence the manager has given us, it’s just gone on. Every game seems to be getting better.

“(Lee) Camp is making great saves, the lads are scoring good goals, and everyone is performing well.

“We are showing a determination not to concede. Anyone who has come into the back four has known their role straight away. We have been determined, put our bodies on the line, and just defended well.

“But you cannot under-estimate what the manager has done.

“He has come in and instilled this belief and confidence in us, that we are a good side and can win games, better than teams we are playing.

“He has made us really hard to beat.

“Everybody knows their role, we work on it in training. Leading up to a game, everybody knows their specifics for what they need to do, and who they are up against.”

Victory at MK Dons would open up a nine-point gap, with five games remaining, and go a long way to securing the South Yorkshire club’s Championship status.

“It’s a huge game,” said Kelly, whose short-term deal expires in the summer.

“I think everyone always knew this was going to be a massive game for us, considering the positions in the table.

“We have given ourselves a real opportunity to go there and play with more freedom than we would have done if we had still been behind them. The pressure is now on them, they are going to have to come at us.

“We have been playing well recently, our confidence is high, and we go there in good spirits,” he added.

“The number of points we have picked up, I can’t see another team doing that between now and the end of the season.

“Credit to the players and the manager. We have given ourselves the best opportunity going into the MK Dons game.

“We are not safe until it’s mathematically impossible. But if we get a win at the weekend it would be a great step towards safety.”