MICHAEL O’Connor is adamant the increased competition for midfield berths at Rotherham United is helping to keep players on their toes.
The Northern Ireland international was recalled at Southend United, having served a three-match ban for his dismissal at Burton Albion. Manager Steve Evans resisted the temptation to reinstate O’Connor to the starting line-up versus York City and the midfielder had to settle for a place on the substitutes bench.
Evans moved Kari Arnason to centre-half last weekend but believes the Icelandic star’s best position is in the middle of the park. If the Scot decides to select Arnason in the centre at Oxford United tonight, O’Connor’s place could come under threat but the former Scunthorpe United player is determined to stay in the team.
“You would rather have competition for places than not,” he told The Star. “If you don’t have many players pushing you, then you get sloppy. We know we have to keep playing well every game or we will be dropped.
“We all work hard together. But I want to do better than the other guys.”
O’Connor and his teammates head to Oxford United tonight seeking to extend their unbeaten league run to six matches. It is one of Rotherham’s game in hands over their rivals and was originally pencilled in to take place in mid-January but was called off on safety grounds the day before. Three points would catapult Steve Evans men into the automatic promotion placings.
But it promises to be a tough assignment at the Kassam Stadium as Oxford, who are in 11th position, have triumphed in three out of their last four matches. They have shored things up at the back, keeping clean sheets in three of those fixtures.
Fresh from back-to-back victories over Gillingham and Port Vale, the division’s top two sides, the U’s are targeting another win to keep their play-off hopes alive.
Paul Raynor, Rotherham’s assistant manager, said: “Oxford will be slightly disappointed with their season so far. It is a crucial game for us both and it has got the makings of an entertaining game.
“We showed a lot of spirit, commitment and desire to comeback into the last two games to knick valuable points. We deserved something at Southend. It would have been a travesty if we had got nothing.”
Deane Smalley, who enjoyed a productive loan spell at Chesterfield two seasons ago, is poised to get the nod up front for Oxford following his match-winning contribution versus Port Vale. He has recently returned to the team following four months out with a groin injury whilst Michael Raynes should also feature against his old club.