Rotherham United 2019-20 - Paul Warne clips his wings as Millers aim to fly

AN intelligent and perceptive individual, the notion of Rotherham United being the hunted as opposed to the hunter in 2019-20 is unlikely to be lost upon Paul Warne.

Rotherham United manager Paul Warne: New challenge.

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In many respects, last season was a ‘free hit’ for his Millers side, who were instantly cast as firm relegation favourites before a Championship ball was kicked.

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Not that Rotherham were subjugated in any way, quite the opposite, in fact.

Attacking force: Millers signing Freddie Ladapo. Picture: Harriet Lander/Getty Images

No respecter of reputations, the side were wholly comfortable in their own skin just as they had been in Warne’s successful playing days in the second tier at the club under Ronnie Moore in the early Noughties.

The Millers gave their job-lot and bloodied the noses of the likes of Derby County, Swansea City, Blackburn Rovers and Nottingham Forest.

Plenty of other clubs blessed with greater resources and financial largesse were also afforded difficult days and nights.

While it was not quite enough to secure another season of Championship football at the AESSEAL New York Stadium, the Millers players who disconsolately left the pitch at The Hawthorns when relegation was confirmed on the penultimate weekend of the campaign knew, deep down, they could have given no more.

They had a fair bit of fun along the way as well. Now, the dynamic is transformed amid the League One landscape as Warne will be the first to acknowledge.

The Millers may lack the historical footballing cachet of the likes of Sunderland, Ipswich Town and Portsmouth, but they are a club with heavyweight promotion credentials who plenty of others will be keen to turn over in the new season.

Memories of Rotherham’s immediate return to the Championship in 2017-18 after relegation in the previous campaign will add to their status as serious contenders.

Confidence will not be in short supply among supporters either, emboldened by the club’s record signing of £400,000 forward Freddie Ladapo – with League One all about business as opposed to a ‘glad-to-be-here’ attitude.

Millers chief Warne, whose side are ranked as the fifth favourites for promotion by most bookmakers, said: “Ipswich will be the out-and-out favourites seeing the signings they have made. But with a big club comes big pressure, I think.

“But it is not dissimilar to here. If I lose my first two home games then the New York (stadium) is not going to be the greatest place to come to work the following Saturday. It will be the same with Ipswich.

“Pompey have done a lot of business. They have sold a couple of players and they can flip the money around. They have done well.

“They obviously had a great season last time. They will compete again. Sunderland will obviously be up there.

“Ipswich and Sunderland, if they are playing in front of sell-outs and win their first four games, then they are going to be tough to catch.

“I think we are prepared enough and ready enough to compete, but where we will end up who knows?

“I think the top teams in the league, the bigger teams, if they start really well and are off, it is hard to pull them back.

“But, no disrespect, if it is a smaller team up there, by the end of the season they can sort of get dragged back a little bit.”

Plunged into a maelstrom midway through the 2016-17 season with the Millers hurtling back to League One at a rate of knots, Warne’s first six months as manager were somewhat brutal.

It afforded him plenty of restless nights – a time when he admitted to chewing on his mouth in his sleep in the wee small hours – and caffeine-fuelled days, but the individual about to embark on his third full season in charge of his beloved Millers is a far more seasoned figure.

Pressures remain, of course, with Warne wise to the notion that playing a certain way in the Championship, namely with one frontman in a bid to pack midfield and stifle opponents, is something that supporters are unlikely to countenance in League One.

The Millers’ attacking options, boosted by the arrival of Ladapo and Carlton Morris, look strong and bases look covered defensively and in midfield.

But just as they dug in at away grounds last season, so visiting League One teams will aim to frustrate and negate Rotherham on home soil this time around – with Warne and his coaching staff likely to be assigned with solving the odd puzzle or two.

He remarked: “Before last season began, I convinced myself we were going to go 4-4-2, stick to our principles and take the league by the grip.

“After a rude awakening at Brentford, it was quite apparent that if we played two up top we would not have any ball in the middle of the park at all.

“This season, I feel I have got massive strengths up top and in the middle of the park. It might be that I do not play with wingers. I might play a diamond or 3-5-2.

“We all know that in football a team can start a season a certain way and then completely change it after three games if things aren’t going well.

“I would like our system to be in place and working as soon as possible because, ideally, I would like to start the season well so I can sleep!

“The exciting thing for me this time is that the departure of all the wingers is forcing me to look at things a little bit differently.

“If I still had all four, I would probably have been thinking 4-4-2 and ‘up and at them’.

“But I have got different options now.”

Decisions, decisions. But, in fairness, Warne has got plenty right in his time at the club so far.

How the Millers have operated in the summer transfer market:

INS: Carlton Morris (Norwich City, loan), Shaun MacDonald (Wigan Athletic, free), Freddie Ladapo (Plymouth Argyle, £400,000), Julien Lamy (unattached, free), Dan Barlaser (Newcastle United, season-long loan), Matthew Olosunde (unattached, free).

OUTS: Semi Ajayi (WBA, initial £1.5m), Alex Bray, Emmanuel Onariase (released), David Ball (Wellington Phoenix, free), Marek Rodak, Sean Raggett, Richie Towell (loan return), Joe Newell (Hibernian), Ryan Williams (Portsmouth, free), Will Vaulks (Cardiff, initial £2.1m), Darren Potter (Tranmere, free), Dominic Ball (QPR, free), Ben Purrington (Charlton Athletic, undisclosed), Matty Palmer (Bradford City, loan).

VERDICT: Millers look strong promotion candidates and look to have wherewithal for success. A quick-fire return to the Championship is well within their remit.

PREDICTION: Promotion.