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03/04: Preview: Rotherham
Opposition opinion
by Rotherham fan Keith Foster

What happened last season?
The fairytale tenure of Ronnie Moore at Millmoor continues. Last season, just like every other of the six he has been in charge, the team has improved, finished higher in the league, and greatened the numbers coming through the turnstiles. The season began with a six-goal slaughter of Millwall. It ended with the previously unheard of situation for a Millers side of one international player (Darren Byfield, Jamaica) replacing another international player (Alan Lee, the Republic of Ireland). Heady days indeed for little old Rotherham.

The commencement of the season brought with it the usual predictions of struggle and eventual relegation. Immediately however, it became obvious that this was not to be the case. That superb six nil victory against Millwall at the Den on a perfect August afternoon put the Millers, albeit briefly, at the summit of the Football League. Rotherham stayed in the higher reaches of the division for much of the season, keeping more in contact with the play-offs than the danger area towards the bottom. In fact, we Millers had no reason to glance down the table except for the hilarious sight of our illustrious neighbours from Hillsborough camped in the bottom three.

In addition to the Millwall game, other highlights included another six-goal haul at Burnley (well, we thought it something special at the time), a last minute wonder goal by Darren Garner at a certain local now-second-division ground, and the wins at Ipswich and Walsall will live long in the memory. At times - and some of you may not believe this - the football was an absolute joy to watch, the first half an hour at home to Brighton being a particularly exhilarating example.

The praise for the improved performance of the team must go to the management team of Ronnie Moore and John Breckin. With no money to spend, the season was played with the same players that only narrowly escaped relegation the previous May. The only influx of players - a couple of loan midfielders towards the end of the season - coincided with the team's worst run of form. Testament to Moore and Breckin's abilities is striker Richie Barker. Two years ago, Barker hardly looked second division material, never mind the first. He has been developed, taking into account his obvious limitations, into an effective first division player. He became one of three Millers strikers to reach double figures for the season along with Byfield and Lee.

The more recognised talents of Chris Sedgwick, Martin McIntosh, Byfield and Lee were all impressive in the first half of the season, receiving plaudits from seemingly everywhere. The whole team, however, dipped in the second half of the season, pointing to the lack of depth in the squad. This caused us to slip into the aggressive, long-ball game people believe us to play, and facilitated our slide down the table.

After such an impressive and enjoyable season, it seems strange to look at the table and realise we finished in fifteenth, our lowliest position of the term. The bad run towards the end took us from the play-off places to the bottom half in just a few weeks. With a little investment when the squad was visibly creaking, the play-offs could have been a reality. Can't complain though, mid-table obscurity was the aim. Mid-table was achieved and we enjoyed every minute of it.

What's going to happen next season?
second half of last season made it clear to everyone that the squad needs an amount of freshening up. The players are mainly the players that brought us up from the second and third divisions, and when the inevitable injuries and suspensions start to take hold, the squad looks distinctly slim. We need a quality, ball-playing central midfielder. John O'Neill from Hibernian looks like a possibility for the berth, but no contract, at the time of writing, has been offered after seemingly months on trial. A quality left-sided player is also required to give competition to two foot three inch left-back Paul Hurst and inconsistent winger Andy Monkhouse. Scott Minto is currently top of the shortlist, and, like O'Neill, is currently on trial with the club. Both O'Neill and Minto are the wrong side of thirty which begs the question, should we be looking at younger models? We probably won't get them anyway knowing us, so we need not worry.

Other players that have been training with the club include Oldham centre-back come midfielder Julien Baudet, rated not good enough for the second by Latics' fans, so surely not good enough for the step up. However, Ronnie sees something in him apparently, and we could do with cover at the back for when Chris Swailes and Guy Branston are suspended, leaving McIntosh a bit lonely.

One definite signing is young Coventry keeper Chris Montgomery, but he's gone and broken his hand. Therefore, if there is a goalie reading this who would not mind warming a bench of a Saturday for the next couple of months, contact Ronnie Moore, C/O Rotherham United Football Club, Masbrough Street, Rotherham.

We do have unfulfilled potential in the squad to look forward to being realised. If we could get the Football League to enforce all opposition teams to wear Nottingham Forest shirts, Chris Sedgwick would be some player. If he reproduces the form he showed in both Forest games, and, to be fair, a sizable chunk of the first half of the season, and score some goals, he will be Premiership class.

Andy Monkhouse is the most naturally gifted player at the club, drawing comparisons with Chris Waddle from some. Last season was an injury hit one for him, but his consistency when fit was worrying. At times, he is frighteningly good, at others, seemingly absent. If he could get the confidence back he showed in the previous season, opposing right-backs beware.

One position most Millers agree we have sorted is up front. Alan Lee, Mark Robins, Darren Byfield and Richie Barker all get goals at this level. If we get the ammunition right for the selected pairing, we will win more games than we lose. How long we keep Lee for is a potential problem, but we will cross that bridge when we come to it.

My prediction for next season? About the same final placing, but without the explosive start of 2002/2003. If we can get the extra quality and cover necessary, then we might just be able to last the distance if we find ourselves in a play-off spot again. Sadly, I do not think that we will be up there as we were last season. While Ronnie is in charge, we will not go down, and we will continue to be the merriest generation of Merry Millers since… well, since Millmoor was a modern ground.

Can you recommend a pub for away fans?
Any of the pubs immediately outside the ground offer a friendly pint and chat. In particular, The Tivoli on the ground's forecourt. Do not go into the centre of town, it could get messy.

What's the nearest railway station?
Rotherham Central - five minutes walk from Millmoor. Turn left out of the station and follow the (ahem) crowds.

Where is the best place to park?
On-street parking is a possibility, but it is probably best to park in the overpriced car park* whose entrance is down a side street running parallel to the bridge that is outside the ground. (* For car park, read 'rubble strewn wasteland').

Word Association
Rotherham United pride
Beckham needs a haircut, now
Milton Keynes absolute disgrace
The Premiership that U2 song is becoming really irritating
Division Two please, just give us another couple of seasons
Millmoor "s*** ground no fans" - but I love it
Watford Elton John

Soundbites (from assorted Census correspondents)
"Stupid Questions, thanks for wasting my time"

"I obviously have too much time on my hands to fill in your survey with such loving care. All the best, except when you play us! Liz xx"

"Do I win any prizes? Does living with a Watford fan count? Can we have that disallowed third goal against you from last season?"

"I spent a year living in Luton, I bet I hate the place more than you"

"I've got a sore toe"