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02/03: Reports:

Nationwide Division One, 09/11/02
Rotherham United
Making an arse of yourself
By Matt Rowson

There's making an arse of yourself and there's making an arse of yourself.

If it's going to happen, it's perhaps best done on a small scale and amongst friends. Knocking a full pint of Murphys flying, for example, drenching a tablecloth, a 1978 Division Four Championship commemorative book, some quiz answer sheets and anything else that makes the mistake of being in the trajectory is not advised, but at least the worst that's going to happen as a result is a bit of piss-taking.

Ronnie Moore, however, has taken the art-form onto a whole new scale. A Millers legend in his playing days, Moore returned to Millmoor in 1997 not only to spearhead two highly improbable and back-to-back promotions, but to consolidate a Division One place last season and to kick on with a highly encouraging start to this campaign. A man who, in this corner of South Yorkshire at least, appears to have it made.

The charade that followed George Burley's departure from Ipswich, then, has to come pretty high on Ronnie's list of Bad Things. United received a call purporting to be from Ipswich chairman David Sheepshanks requesting permission to approach Moore with respect to the newly-vacated Portman Road job. Moore's reaction was to cluck excitedly about the opportunity to anyone who'd listen, despite his board turning down the apparent inquiry: "Opportunities like this don't come round very often, and I wish I could take the opportunity to speak to Ipswich. I feel as though I have taken Rotherham as far as I can."

A little bit imprudent at best, but the gravity of the situation only came to light when Sheepshanks announced that no approach had been made from Ipswich. The call, it would appear, was a hoax (albeit that one might expect Ipswich fans to have mixed feelings about this revelation, given the identity of the man who ultimately replaced Burley).

Doh. Red faced and with nowhere to run, Moore has kept a particularly low profile since the incident, and who can blame him. Messageboards this week have been rife with rumour that Moore is on his way to local would-be-aristocrats Sheffield Wednesday, but the tone is different, several layers of veneer have been scraped off by the incident and Moore has bridges to rebuild if he's to stay on in the longer term. (Incidentally, Moore appears to have backed away from the Wednesday job, he's not that desperate. Nor either is David Holdsworth, who reputedly turned down the offer of a playing contract in favour of signing for Scarborough in the Conference...).

Rotherham started the season like an express train with an eye-catching win away against last season's play-off semi-finalists Millwall. Their form has tailed off a little since, particularly away from home where goals have been leaking rather easily and the now fallible Moore's tactical nous has been questioned. At Millmoor, however, they remain formidable with only one defeat and six goals conceded in eight league games so far.

In goal for United will be Mike Pollitt, rumoured to be joining Watford on Kevin Miller's departure five years ago, understudied by Ian Gray who was first choice during Pollitt's one-year sabbatical at Chesterfield.

At the back, Guy Branston and the experienced Chris Swailes form a rugged central-defensive pairing. The slightly more elegant Martin McIntosh, a mainstay of the first-choice side, has been missing with a foot injury. With David Artell on loan at Shrewsbury, Welshman Rhodri Jones appears to be the most likely deputy.

Fullbacks are the versatile former Fulham man Rob Scott and last year's player-of-the-season Paul Hurst. Cover comes from former Blackpool man Marvin Bryan and reserve team skipper Chris Beech.

In midfield, Nick Daws and Darren Garner, who missed the whole of last season through injury, have recently been partnered in the centre. This partnership has been regarded as hardworking but uninspiring, and a recall for either John Mullin or Stewart Talbot would not be wholly unpopular. Talbot's career was nearly ended by a Paul Robinson tackle at Port Vale three years ago.

The talented but inconsistent Andy Monkhouse and speed-merchant Chris Sedgwick are attacking threats on the left and right flanks respectively.

Up front, the strong and pacy Alan Lee forms a bullish partnership with Richie Barker... very much Sean Dyche's sort of opponent, one suspects. Darren Byfield and Paul Warne offer something different from the bench with Mark Robins currently out of favour.

United's team carries no passengers and the result they pulled out of the bag in midweek, a 3-1 away win at an abandoned Selhurst against Wimblestein despite being outplayed for long periods, illustrates a useful ability to pull out results without playing well.

The portents for the Hornets are not all bad, however. Ten years ago this weekend, we recorded a famous victory against another Yorkshire side, then-champions Leeds, as Eric Cantona played his last game for United at Vicarage Road.

The avoidance of embarrassment would be a welcome result this weekend.