What was last season like?
Entering the season as everyone's favourites for relegation, The Millers had a lot to do to avoid dropping straight back to Division 2. After two amazing promotions, led by Sir Ronnie Moore, our hard-working squad and still-ecstatic fans were now looking forward to loads of local derbies and games against much bigger clubs. Predictions from supporters of our "huge" neighbours, Sheffield "We've got a better ground than you" Wednesday, of us getting the lowest ever points total, added to our determination to do ourselves proud in this division.
It was clear that we needed to add some proven first division quality. Therefore, armed with money from vastly increased season ticket prices, and a very rich and (allegedly) passionate chairman, we splashed out on Chris Swailes, Nick Daws and goalkeeper Mike Pollitt. The first two were free transfers from Bury, Pollitt a £75K buy from the mighty Chesterfield. Oh well. These were added to a squad famed for its fight and aggression, epitomised by the defender Guy Branston and the combative midfielder Stewart Talbot. Attacking guile was supplied by the youth of Chris Sedgwick, providing chances for the prolific Mark Robins and the young and talented Alan Lee, whose goal in the last minute against Brentford the previous season had won promotion. A good blend of youth and experience, plenty of effort was assured, quality was questionable.
The season started badly. Half an hour in, it all looked easy, two nil up against Palace, until Guy Branston gave away a silly penalty, after clever play by Dougie Freedman. We went on to lose 3-2 and didn't get a win in the first ten games. Three things changed the bad run. Firstly, central defender Martin McIntosh was brought in initially on loan from Hibs and then signed permanently, for a joint club record of £150,000. He added classiness and assurity at the back, edging out Branston, forming one of the best central defensive partnerships in the division with the more forceful Swailes. Secondly, John Mullin was bought from Burnley, also for £150K. He brought a tidy approach to the midfield and proved to be more than handy in the opposition penalty area. Finally, Andy Monkhouse, a young and very skilful winger, was given an extended run on the left. With Monkhouse marauding down that side and with Sedgwick causing problems on the other wing, we suddenly had many options in the midfield. After getting the first win at Grimsby, with two goals for the free-scoring Robins, we went on a great, unbeaten run. One of the teams beaten in the run included eventually promoted West Brom in one of the best performances that I have seen at Millmoor. The highlight of the season came at Hillsborough, when former Wednesday striker Richie Barker headed the winner in the last minute. The whole of Rotherham (well, the people in Rotherham who don't support Wednesday) had large satisfied smiles on their faces.
In the 26 league games following the Grimsby game, plus a tremendous performance in the cup to see off Southampton, Rotherham played some good, quick, attacking football at home. It had to be, as our away form was quite poor. We kept picking up valuable points from teams that we were not meant to, and the predicted drubbings never materialised. During this period, our form equated to mid-table obscurity, something that at the beginning of the season would have seemed like utopia. For a time, we were the highest placed South Yorkshire club. This would have seemed incredible when Moore took over five years ago, and in truth, still does.
However, as the last ten games approached, along with the fifty-point mark, the club realised that mid-table obscurity was a possibility. Ronnie Moore's managerial career to date doesn't have too much of that, so we decided to start playing the boring, unproductive long-ball game that everyone thought we played anyway. The double-pronged wide play of Sedgwick and Monkhouse was forsaken, Monkey dropping to the bench. Result: no wins in the last ten games, staying above Crewe in the final relegation place on goal difference. Staying up was the aim at the beginning of the season and a job well done by everyone, but maybe just a little disappointing in the end after how we had played earlier in the season. Another season, another year of tremendous progress all the same. Well done everyone, we are very proud.
What's next season gonna be like?
Millers' thoughts for the new season depend on how they would answer the old question: is the glass half full or half empty? For the fans of the half empty persuasion (and there are a few of them among the Millers' following), the fact that we haven't brought any new blood in to a team that only just survived last season is tempting the Grim Reaper towards Masbrough Street. A feeling that we might have been found out - the evidence being the final ten games of last season - heightens the gloom.
However, for the more optimistic Miller, the fact that despite the ITV digital debacle we still have a full squad of professional footballers, unlike Grimsby and Bradford for example, points to better times. Add to that the return after well over a year due to a broken leg the influential midfielder Darren Garner, and the signing of a new three-year contract by Premiership potential Sedgwick, things start to look distinctly rosy. Stewart Talbot played most of last season half-fit - a fully fit Talbs would be a bonus to any team in the lower half of the division. The continued development of Sedgwick, Monkhouse and Lee, along with other youngsters like David Artell, Shaun Barker and Rhodri Jones, should yield success in the coming months. The addition of striker Darren Byfield towards the end of last season almost feels like a new signing anyway, and he will probably start the season up front with Lee, leaving the ever-dangerous Robins to come off the bench. Finally, and probably the most important of all, is a full season of first division experience. The team went through a steep learning curve last season. If we have taken on board some of the lessons from the first and last ten games, we should be more consistent for the whole season.
It is obvious to everyone that this team is low on genuine first division quality. If we can add that in certain areas, the full-back and central midfield positions being priorities, then the promised land of mid-table obscurity could be ours for the taking. If we don't, and we find that this squad of players has reached its level, then the party might be over. But we do still have Ronnie, and he cares enough about this club to do anything to stop that happening. If we can manage to keep him, and surely someone from the higher reaches of the division might fancy him when their chairman's trigger finger has got just a little too itchy, we have a chance.
Prediction: much the same as last year, but hopefully staying up with a little more to spare. Just a message for Ronnie, play our strongest team whenever possible and keep the ball on the floor - we are a good team when we do that. But hey, I'm preaching to a demi-god here. I think I will leave it to him. UTM.
Soundbites (from assorted Census correspondents)
"We have the tightest chairman in the history of football. Mr Ken Booth. I deliberately didnt fill in the worst 11 of all time, because the result of thet is down to the tightness of the afore mentioned and not the fault of the crappy players"
"I LOVE PAUL WARNE!!!! and hate all wednesday fans cos they think they're better than anyone else cos they've got a "big stadium". I also dont like Vialli because we should've beaten you at Millmoor last season but it was 1-1 and he said "I think Rotherham just deserved the draw" the cheek of the man!"
"we have a silly song crew!"
"Until recently weve always had crap centre forwards with the exception of King Ronnie and Bobby Williamson"