Southampton was the moment that Rotherham United and Matt Taylor deserved - sticking together is their best Championship chance: Leon Wobschall comment

DURING a pre-match press conference not so long back, Matt Taylor let out a muffled laugh.

A small gathering of journalists present on the Zoom call did the same. All bar one anyway.

Just a handful of games into the new season, the Rotherham United manager was asked by one particular inquisitor that if someone could assure him of a 14th or 15th-placed finish at the end of the current campaign, would he snap that particular person’s hand off?

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Quick as a flash, he said that he would not just snap their hand off, but also ‘both legs, both arms and their body’, while quietly mentioning that 21st position would do rather nicely.

Rotherham United manager Matt Taylor. Picture: PARotherham United manager Matt Taylor. Picture: PA
Rotherham United manager Matt Taylor. Picture: PA

It was a pretty optimistic question, albeit one that came with good intentions. The statistics did show that the Millers finished in 19th spot last season after all. Why couldn’t they kick on and go a few places higher?

Unfortunately for Rotherham United and the questioner’s sakes, the Championship is not an ideal world.

The number of reasons suggesting that it is achievable is comprehensively outweighed by those which suggest that it is not, in all seriousness. And that is not being particularly negative, just realistic.

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This season, the division’s landscape is notable not just for the money spent by those fortunate to be armed with parachute payments, but how the rest – and not just the best of the rest – have splashed the cash, whether that be on transfer fees or wages.

Ahead of the new season, Taylor – amid a fair bit of transfer frustration – remarked upon how several who were in the same vicinity of the table last season were blowing the Millers ‘out of the water’.

Rotherham have spent around £1.5m and broken their transfer record not once, but twice. But that total is a drop in the ocean compared with virtually all of their rivals. Not a criticism, just plain fact.

If trying to contend with others on the financial front is not onerous enough, a triple whammy elsewhere has left Rotherham feeling debilitated for much of the opening quarter of 2023-24.

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A wretched run on the injury front has reduced them to the bare bones at times, especially defensively.

Some punishing refereeing decisions have compounded matters – the Millers received an apology from the refereeing overlords after a horrendous decision cost them against Blackburn, but sorry doesn’t mitigate for two lost points.

Also factor in some cruel late concessions when the Millers were simply worn down by their opponents' bench power. Leicester City and Bristol City being two cases in points.

Fortunately, there are glimmers of hope.

The final fixtures at the end of intense three-game weeks are usually the most demanding, mentally and physically, especially for those whose resources are depleted.

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On three occasions already this term, the Millers have ended it with something. They have beaten Norwich and drawn with Preston and Southampton. It suggests that for all their issues so far in 2023-24, one thing that is not plainly lacking is bottle – as was exhibited on Saturday. Taylor found himself under the pump ahead of the game at Southampton. It’s what made the Millers’ magnificent result on their first ever visit to St Mary’s all the more meaningful.

It explains why he labelled the 1-1 draw as his 'best hour' ever as a manager afterwards amid a welter of pride and understandable emotion. He and the Millers needed this, you sense.

Leaders in Viktor Johansson and Lee Peltier stood tall and others followed as those in Millers jerseys dug deep in the very best traditions of the club during their previous second-tier survival fights of yore.

Like in that wonderfully defiant first season back at this level under Ronnie Moore in 2001-02. When the Millers coped with adversity and some tough calls to chisel out key results against some of the big boys.

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It was a time when the togetherness of those in red and white and those in the stands stuck out a mile and helped the club through. Everyone was in it together.

That same feeling was present by the Solent late on Saturday afternoon as players thanked 1,054 away supporters at the end. Let’s hope it is not transient.

For all Moore’s achievements, it is worth remembering that it was a season when the Millers were competing against similar-sized clubs at the time in Gillingham, Crewe, Walsall, Stockport, Grimsby and Wimbledon. They just stayed up, on goal difference.

Taylor and Rotherham do not have such a luxury this time around.

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The Millers and their supporters have each other and not too much else, with the cynics on the outside waiting for them to fall.

Better to stick together and raise two fingers to the doubters, rather than splintering off. That's what survivors do.