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01/02: Reports:

Nationwide Division One, 12/01/02, 3pm
Rotherham United
A "must see" for masochists
By Matt Rowson

As with so many things in following a football team, rationale doesn't come into this. Every summer when the fixture lists are published, the schedule offers a standout tie in the middle of winter, a tie that suggests such a lack of both temperature and cheer that the masochistic streak in any football supporter pencils it in as a must. The late December shindig in Barnsley was last year's example, and a December Tuesday night in Wrexham stands out in the memory from our spell in Division Two.

So the trip to Rotherham, despite the obvious obstacles, cannot be missed. The Millers have done reasonably well since their slightly surprising promotion last season. Although they're still amongst the candidates for the two undecided relegation places, they've succeeded in hovering around eighteenth place without being sucked into the relegation zone. They are also closer than might have been expected, a mere two league places, from being the top Yorkshire side in the division.

In all honesty, it's something of a good job that logic is not relevant in these situations. Rotherham United have a club legend as manager and a hardworking team made up of home-developed stars and pick-ups from the lower divisions. Watford, on the other hand, have a squad littered with internationals and players with top-level experience. Having spent much of the last four years slagging off First Division sides with overpaid, underperforming big name players, and without intending to pass comment on the quality of players we have signed or the appropriateness of our summer change in approach, it would be hypocritical not to confess that this sort of fixture makes me feel a little uncomfortable.

In goal for Rotherham will be Mike Pollitt, in his second spell with the Millers, whose understudy Ian Gray was first choice during Pollitt's absence.

Regular right-back has been long-throw expert Rob Scott, but he picked up a knock in the Millers' last tie with Barnsley. If he doesn't make it back for Saturday, and in the continuing absence of long-term injury victim Marvin Bryan, David Artell is likely to come in. Paul Hurst should play on the left.

As a result of Rotherham's Cup tie with Southampton being postponed, important Scottish centreback Martin McIntosh's suspension is carried over to Saturday. Former Bury man Chris Swailes is therefore likely to be partnered by the bullish Guy Branston. Former Cardiff man Chris Beech is another option at the back.

In midfield, team captain is Kevin Watson who has again being linked with a move to Reading. He has been partnered by the attacking John Mullin, an October signing from Burnley who scored in GT's last game in May. With winger Andy Monkhouse out, another ex-Bury man Nick Daws has come in, whilst the pacy Chris Sedgwick should play down the left. Other midfield options include former Robbo victim Stewart Talbot and Portuguese winger Jos Miranda, but there's no sign of workhorse Darren Garner.

Rotherham's weakest area has been goalscoring, with Ronnie Moore supposedly looking at strengthening his hand with a signing from north of the border in this area. Mark Robins is the leading scorer but he missed the Barnsley game with flu. His first choice partner would be Alan Lee, but Lee has not been playing, presumably through injury. NTL's unhelpful inability to install a phone line within three weeks of being asked to do so means that I am "writing blind" and unable to check this... former Macclesfield target man Richie Barker should play, whilst Paul Warne played alongside him against Barnsley.

To Millmoor, then, and Rotherham's first tie of a year in which we've already managed to ship eight goals. Logically, a match against a side struggling to score should at least give us a chance of improving the rate at which we're conceding. Not that it always works like that - this is our last Saturday fixture for at least five weeks (!!!), which makes no sense at all....