Rotherham United: Millers aim for midfield mastery

Lee Frecklington scores against Oldham
Lee Frecklington scores against Oldham
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Is Rotherham United’s midfield right up with the best there is in League One?

The question is posed ahead of an intriguing clash with a Walsall side whose midfield set-up posed some awkward questions for the Millers when they met earlier this season.

On current form, the Millers midfield quartet of Kieran Agard, Lee Frecklington, Richie Smallwood and Ben Pringle, has to rank at least alongside any other in the division.

Agard is the top scorer with 17 goals from his role on the right.

Frecklington is enjoying his most prolific season, with 12 goals together with an outstanding all-round game.

Smallwood, on loan from Middlesbrough, is the unsung member of the quartet and doing the unfashionable, ‘ugly’ part of the game.

Pringle, regarded by his manager as someone worth millions, provides the balance and an ability to deliver crosses of real quality.

If manager Steve Evans reverts back selects them as his midfield four tomorrow, having made a tactical change in the 2-0 win at Oldham Athletic in midweek, they will be asked to outdo a Walsall midfield whose possession game often outshone the Millers in the 1-1 draw at the Bescot Stadium in September.

Frecklington took his tally to 12 with a stunning goal at Oldham on Tuesday.

“It was a special goal from someone I regard as a special player at this level,” said boss Evans.

“He has been excellent from the day he came in here and, considering he is this club’s record signing (the undisclosed fee is understood to have been around £160,000), he has been well worth it.

“For me, Lee Frecklington is right up with the best midfielders in this division, a category in which I’d put Ben Pringle and the lad Pritchard at Swindon although it’s all subjective.

“More importantly, he is a top class professional and has been from day one.

“Our midfield is functioning but they have to do that because you have someone like Michael O’Connor who can’t get in and is desperate to do so whilst Rob Milsom is pushing too.

“This will be a test for us because I saw Walsall recently at Peterborough and they do retain possession well.

“Patience is likely to be required from everyone and our crowd will have to be patient as well when we’re not in possession.”

Rotherham and Walsall were close Play-off rivals just a few weeks ago but there is now a gap of 17 points between them and Walsall are in eighth.

“It’s a big weekend as lots of teams at the top play each other - Orient play Brentford; Peterborough and MK Dons meet; there’s us and Walsall whilst Sheffield United - who have put themselves in contention, go to Preston on Monday,” said Evans.

The Millers boss said they had a clean bill of health with Wes Thomas back firing after a thigh injury.

It is likely he could recall Thomas and put Agard back on the right flank. James Tavernier played on the right at Oldham, helping the recalled Mark Bradley combat Oldham’s main threat Gary Harkins.

Walsall will be strengthened in midfield by the return of James Mantom after a three-game ban.

They avoided a fifth straight defeat thanks to a stoppage time own goal in the 1-1 draw at home to Crewe on Tuesday.

They have gone eight matches without a win and will include Febian Brandy on loan from Sheffield Utd.