Southend v Rotherham United: Millers turning back clock to restore glory days

Going up: Rotherham United clinched promotion to Division 1 after beating Brentford thanks to Alan Lee's last-minute winner in 2001.
Going up: Rotherham United clinched promotion to Division 1 after beating Brentford thanks to Alan Lee's last-minute winner in 2001.
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POLLITT, Hurst, Branston, Scott, Talbot, Garner, Sedgwick, Robins, Lee – plus a few others, including Warne and Barker.

Mention these names from Thrybergh to Treeton and from Manvers to Maltby and Rotherham United followers in these parishes are likely to break into an immediate smile.

All of the aforesaid names, honest-to-goodness lads who strained every last sinew for the Millers’ cause during some memorable times in the late Nineties and early Noughties, earned their place in club history during some glory days under Ronnie Moore.

The vibe was a good one and the banter and togetherness was cherished, on and off the pitch, with similar sound, committed, down-to-earth figures adding to a special group over the next few years.

Rotherham became their spiritual home and Millmoor their footballing cathedral.

These days, you have to head across the dual carriageway from the Millers’ obsolete old ground to the AESSEAL New York Stadium.

Rotherham United manager Paul Warne. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

Rotherham United manager Paul Warne. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

While the faces may be different and the surroundings transformed, the mentality, character and resolve of those who wear the red and white of Rotherham United is starting to bear a striking similarity.

It is a comparison that Millers manager Paul Warne acknowledges and is entitled to be inwardly proud of, too, as his side seek their own special promotion to the second-tier.

That is something Warne and assistant Richie Barker savoured in 2000-01.

It remains to seen if the present-day Millers emulate those feats but Warne has a group of players reconnecting with the fan-base and showing that same defiant, in-your-face competitive streak, insatiable work-rate and desire that was associated with the successful Rotherham sides which he played in.

We tried to start off with a clean sheet of paper and kept the players we wanted to keep and added ones who we thought were similar.

Rotherham United manager, Paul Warne

Warne’s fourth-placed side will notch an outstanding 13th win in 18 League One games if they triumph at Southend this afternoon.

Victory would represent a major step towards booking play-off participation in late Spring.

Warne explained the club’s transformation into challengers by saying: “In the off-season, we tried to get rid of players who possibly had ‘had’ their careers and bought into different systems.

“We tried to start off with a clean sheet of paper and kept the players we wanted to keep and added ones who we thought were similar.

“When I played at Rotherham in the promotion team, we were all about the same age and all close mates. Our missuses were all close mates and also all got on. When I was at Oldham at 32, we were really close there, too, but in a different sort of way.

“There were the likes of Sean Gregan and Andy Liddell at the end of their careers and me near the end of my career. It was a bit of a mix and match. There was a young group and an old group.

“Here, it feels a bit like when I first joined Rotherham in that first year when everyone was sort of around the same age and had sort of got something to prove and were desperate to play at the level above because they were at the age where their careers could take them anywhere and any way.

“I think the current group are really close and when I give them day offs, five or six of them will do something together with the partners, which is pretty impressive. We definitely did not have that last season.

“Then there is the whole environment. They all get on. I never go into the canteen in the training ground and see anyone sitting on their own. That closeness is essential and I have banged on about that for ages.

“I don’t think we have got the big individuals in the league, but, collectively, we have got one of the tightest groups in the league.”

Recent results and the Millers’ inspirational upturn since early December certainly points to an innate sense of unity, purpose and watching each other’s backs, too.

After the club’s seventh successive game with a victory culminated in a 2-1 defeat at Bristol Rovers on December 2, a difficult afternoon compounded by the dismissal of top-scorer Kieffer Moore, the Millers were faced with a searching mid-season examination of character.

It was one which they subsequently passed with flying colours given their exemplary pre-Christmas and new year form, which was the talk of League One along with Plymouth’s Argyle’s equally head-turning renaissance.

Another mini-test arrived after recent back-to-back losses to Rochdale and MK Dons which led to suggestions that the bubble had burst.

That was emphatically dispelled in last week’s majestic win at Northampton Town, with the Millers’ beautifully-constructed team goal to make it 3-0 being one that will be fondly recalled in years to come.

Rotherham’s current good health and recovery from some adversity in late autumn is all the more praiseworthy, given the fact a number of their mainstays were left with grievous wounds following their painful experiences during last season’s disastrous relegation campaign which was psychologically damaging for many.

The wholesome events of 2017-18 reflect well not just upon the players who were involved, but the management and coaching staff and is another source of pride to Warne, a manager who makes no apologies for wearing his heart on his sleeve.

On the Millers’ journey, Warne added: “Me and Hammy (first-team coach Matt Hamshaw) were this week looking at the fixtures that we had around this time last year.

“I think we had Queen’s Park Rangers away and the likes of Aston Villa at home. We were going through the fixtures and looking back in to what our mindset was.

“We did not have a good enough team to go toe-to-toe with the likes of Villa, whereas now we can send our teams out with an amount of confidence.

“It is a nicer place to be. I said this on day one and I mean it sincerely – if I lose my job next week, then there is no way people cannot say that I did not change or cleanse the club a little bit and that I have not passed it on in better nick than I got it.

“So, in that respect, I will always be proud of what we have done here.”