Rotherham United v Nottingham Forest: New faces provide welcome change of direction

IF anyone needed proof that Rotherham United will not purely rely on donning their combat fatigues week in, week out to go to war with their rivals to make a Championship statement, it arrived at Cardiff City last week.

Rotherham's Tom Lawrence.

The Millers, for a side without a win in their previous seven matches and facing strong opponents in their Welsh citadel, could have taken the easy option and turned the game into a battle of attrition in their quest to salvage something from such a tough venue.

Before the game, many of their band of followers who headed to South Wales would have gladly taken a 0-0 draw and accompanied it with the phrase ‘job done’ – never mind the performance.

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What Steve Evans’s men provided was something different and wholly refreshing – a consummate footballing display that should have brought a win.

Instead of dining out on food for thought, Evans sampled succulent fare with the refinement of the up-and-at-them style which has been a feature of the Millers’ rise through the divisions and the emphasis on possession and controlled football a key departure.

In the club’s last spell in the Championship under Ronnie Moore, work ethic and organisation served the Millers well and claimed many a choice scalp.

But sometimes, it is about possessing a few more strings to your bow, which is something Evans and his staff have identified. It is also maybe tacit acknowledgement that the Championship has moved on and that you cannot rely on blood and guts alone.

That thinking formed much of the reasoning behind the decision by the club to sanction the recent signings of Tom Lawrence, Reece James, Scott Wootton and Emmanuel Ledesma.

Three of whom were schooled playing football the Manchester United way at Old Trafford, while the other earned his footballing spurs in Argentina.

In essence, the Millers brought forward some of their planned recruitment in January, and Evans is making no apologies with his view being that a club who stand still run a considerable risk.

Evans, whose side welcome Nottingham Forest this afternoon, said: “We are trying desperately hard to get it right at this level.

“This was a strategy I had with the chairman to implement in January. But we expedited it as we needed to do it earlier.

“But when you propose something to my chairman, he is the not the type who says mañana. He wants it today.

“When I said I had these three or four players in mind, we showed the chairman the clips, records and stats and he allowed us to go for it and we are grateful to him.

“When we brought in those players, we did our homework to know that they get the ball down and pass it and move it.

“They have a real air of exuberance and the final reality check you do is about their character and when those boxes get ticked, it was not a surprise that we played as well against Cardiff in the first half.

“It was lovely to stand on the edge of the technical area and watch some of the passing and moving and that is after 10 days of hard work. We hope that after another four or five days of hard work put in this week, it will be just as good.

“Football will never change, you have to get results. But you have to implement a style and way of playing which will get you results. There is no doubt that we are much better now than early in the season when we went five or six unbeaten and won two or three of them.”

The Millers’ evolution is brave and the ultimate vindication will only come when one or two victories come their way.

But if standards being raised means anything, then a few should be just around the corner for Evans’s side.

It is also not lost upon the Scot that his four new arrivals have raised the bar for the club’s existing senior players and he has already noticed that their presence is having a positive spin-off.

He said: “Every one of them has brought a real freshness to our dressing room, a real freshness to the training ground. If anything, it has increased the quality of the players we had here.

“The Pringles, the Smallwoods, the Arnasons, are really embracing what we have done in the last two weeks. We are looking a lot better even preparing for Forest than we did for Cardiff. If you said to me now I could have a Cardiff performance on Saturday, I would take it off your hands. What we need now is just a little bit more of an end product and for their goalkeeper to be less fortunate than the boy (David) Marshall was.

“The four new boys have done great, but that takes nothing away from the boys here who have embraced it. I thought Arnason and Morgan looked something like back to near their best.

“I also thought Ben Pringle suddenly looked back to where he was last season when he was capable of winning games and being a big player on a big stage. Alex Revell also embraced all that.”

During his spell at the club, Evans may have stuck by many foot soldiers who have led from the front during an intoxicating football journey up the leagues, but many others have been thrown by the wayside.

It is something he would care to make no apologies for, with certain players, in his words, having a level. Good players adapt after all.

He added: “We came up and had such a successful style and squad for two years that those players had earned the right to get a chance.

“But in football, every player in the world has a level they can play to. The least they deserve is an opportunity to show they can play at the level and we feel there is not a person in the squad who hasn’t had an opportunity.”