FOR THE second season running, the players of a Championship team bedecked in white whose supporters are used to better days are being put through the mill on the pitch – and off it.
The moniker of Championship crisis club par excellence for 2015-16 has passed on from Leeds United to Bolton Wanderers, who call in at Neil Redfearn’s Rotherham United today – and the ex-Trotters midfielder has sympathy with what the visiting players are going through.
Just as Redfearn donned a hard hat during a fire-fighting mission at times at Elland Road last term, attempting to douse the flames following all sorts of vicissitudes, so Neil Lennon is having to currently fight a raging inferno.
This time last year, Redfearn was head coach of a club in Leeds who were under a transfer embargo following financial fair play breaches and whose chairman had been disqualified from owning it by the Football League – pending an appeal, which was unsuccessful.
A miserable Christmas on the pitch compounded matters. But Redfearn dug deep and steered Leeds away from fraught waters towards the foot of the table – and he is not putting it past Lennon achieving the same at Bolton, despite the torrid financial maelstrom and leadership vacuum at the stricken Lancastrian outfit.
While obviously being keen to ensure that any on-pitch renaissance does not start today.
On the parallels between what he experienced at Leeds and the situation at Bolton, Redfearn – who ironically made his Wanderers debut at Rotherham’s old Millmoor home in the early eighties as a 17-year-old – said: “It’s hard because however much you try and block things out and try and make it not about that (off the field matters), it affects things; it’s got to do.
“His (Lennon’s) players have not been getting paid. Full credit to them, they have been turning out every week and look like they care and are having a go and we have got to cross swords with them and meet them head on.
“They are obviously in difficult times because of what is happening financially at the club. You don’t want to see any club do through those problems.
“But the management, staff and players have rose above that and they have produced some good performances. In this division, there are no games you can bank on. If you go with that attitude in this division, you will get done. It will be a tough game for us, mark my words.
“It has been tough for them, but they have resilience. I watched them at Hull and there was nothing in the game and they got beaten 1-0 and at times, they were the better side.
“Bolton will be exactly the same as us; upbeat and after us and we have to do to them what they want to come and do for us. It will be a full-blooded clash with a lot at stake.
“But we have to make it about us, concentrate on us and make sure we get our performance right.
“To be fair to Neil, it hasn’t affected the performances and they have been unlucky and I think they have good players.
“If they can get their adminstration side sorted out, they are capable of climbing out of the bottom three.”
Speaking of battles, it has not exactly been sunshine and roses for Redfearn since being appointed as Millers boss, especially given a baptism of fire which saw him handed a teak-tough early fixture schedule as manager against the likes of Burnley, Sheffield Wednesday, Derby, Middlesbrough and Ipswich.
To their credit, the Millers have donned their battle fatigues, with their recent form encouraging – their current position of eighth in the Championship form guide being something that Redfearn believes is a real tangible.
Equally, the Yorkshireman is learning quickly about which pllayers he can count on out in the field of combat and those who will last the arduous journey this season – and those who won’t.
It’s certainly an ongoing observation exercise.
Redfearn said: “What happens with players is that they have something to prove every day. It’s an old cliché, but a fact. Our players are learning about me and what I expect and I am learning about them every day and I miss nothing. I watch what they do and how they live and watch what time they turn up in the morning and how they dress – if they come in as a mess or smart and ready to train.
“If they need jumping up and down on, I do that. If they need an arm around them, I do that. They know I am their best friend or worst enemy; it’s down to them; they know that. We have to get the best out of what we have got. But they know I am on their side deep down and that’s important.”
Last year, Redfearn’s Leeds side reached rock-bottom in a sorry festive loss at Derby before summoning up the strength of character to climb up the table.
The Millers had their own nadir this month in a wretched defeat at Huddersfield, with the challenge for them, like Leeds in 2014-15, being to turn their season around, with the outstanding win over Hull last time out being a step in the right direction.
Redfearn added: “If you are trying to turn something around that is not quite right with a team at the wrong end of the table, it’s going to get bumpy. You have to be tough enough to come through.
“Sometimes, things can get magnified, such as what happened in the Huddersfield game and everyone got wrapped up in that – me included.
“But we beat Hull and had a good result and performance and you look at the last six games and we’ve won three and you think that there are sides who are challenging for promotion who are not on that run. We have to put things into perspective.”