Rotherham United opinion piece: Goodbye Dexter Blackstock after an ill-fated season with the Millers

Dexter Blackstock
Dexter Blackstock
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He was just days into his Rotherham United career but this would be his best performance in all his time at the club.

“If I can put my experience across to some of the younger lads and the ones not familiar with the league, it will definitely be vital as you don’t want players finding their feet but losing games at the same time. You can’t do that for too long in this league.”

“I am not coming to Rotherham to be the only man and it’s all on me, as we need the whole squad. But in terms of being involved heavily, it is definitely a big draw.”

Dexter Blackstock was at least talking a good game with the media after joining the Millers in early September last year.

Sat with deep-voiced assuredness at a table at the club’s Roundwood training base, he came across as affable, intelligent, ready to play his part as a senior pro after being the only striker to join the club in then-manager Alan Stubbs’ summer-long recruitment drive.

Today, the 31-year-old parted company with Rotherham; his bank balance boosted, but with his reputation in this pocket of South Yorkshire in tatters.

He started five matches, came on 12 times as a substitute, completed 90 minutes only once, scored a solitary goal and collected a weekly salary thought to be touching five figures as the club were relegated from the Championship.

Damned by statistics. Damned by his air of lethargy and disinterest. Damned by displays where he appeared as if he wasn’t giving his all. Damned by looking as if he didn’t care.

All things considered, probably the worst signing in Millers history.

Rotherham were desperate for a frontman and he knew it. After his departure from Nottingham Forest, he had options. The Millers, with the transfer window closed and only free agents available, didn’t. He demanded big bucks and a three-year deal and got them.

He leaves with a settlement. Not two seasons’ worth of money, after a wage cut following demotion, but still a decent sum. Just as he turned up 10 months ago and did very well for himself, he negotiated his own hard Dexit.

Paul Warne, now in permanent charge after a spell as caretaker manager which started at the end of November, started Blackstock only twice - and one of those occasions was when Peter Odemwingie pulled out minutes before the January FA Cup home clash against Oxford United.

Spectators were shocked by the apparent paucity of his commitment in the opening 45 minutes. ‘Money for Nothing’ was played over the public-address system at the interval and the forward never appeared for the second half of that embarrassing 3-2 home defeat against a side from a division below. Even the New York Stadium DJ was getting in on the act.

Warne, all about hunger, desire and unstinting effort as a player and exactly the same now he’s in management, saw no Millers future for the attacker. Neither did fans who are partial to witnessing said hunger, desire and workrate.

On-the-record messages in May and June that the club would do their best to get the most out of their centre-forward didn’t tally with what was going on behind the scenes. The Millers knew that to reveal publicly they were ready to negotiate would only strengthen Blackstock’s bargaining position. Talks had gone so far by the end of last month that he never came back for pre-season training.

Rotherham saw nothing of the man who began his career in the Premier League and had spent more than 10 seasons in the second tier, scoring at the rate of around a goal every four matches in his 300-plus appearances.

One Millers player who’d encountered Blackstock in the past spoke of what a tough opponent he had been, and the frontman had obviously been handy in his day. Respectful receptions from supporters at two of his previous clubs, Forest and QPR, as he warmed up on the touchline at the City Ground and Loftus Road were testament to that - and far removed from the brewing hostility at his own ground.

By the time he arrived at Rotherham, something had diminished his physicality and attitude.

His one goal came in a losing cause at Norwich City just before Stubbs was sacked last October. His one reasonable display came a fortnight later in a 2-2 draw at Ipswich Town during Kenny Jackett’s short time in the hot-seat.

The rest of his performances ranged from poor to abject. 2/10 against the U’s. 3/10 in the 5-0 February collapse at Cardiff City. Brought off before the hour mark in both.

Still, he always had the blinder in that upstairs room at Roundwood to fall back on.

“I had been at Forest for seven seasons. The club was great with me, the fans were great and I had great times there. But there just comes a time to leave.

“A new manager came in with different methods and I had to decide whether I wanted to be a bit-part player, which I have never been in my whole career, or come to a club and be more involved and it be more of a challenge.”

Rotherham will learn from a painful, expensive mistake. Don’t expect to see a long-term contract with record reimbursement being awarded to a 30-something in chairman Tony Stewart’s reign again.

The player complained that he needed a run of games to find his best form while doing nothing to suggest he deserved a place in the starting 11.

On February 22, during a 4-2 loss at Brentford, he came on in the 84th minute. After that, with Rotherham plummeting into League One, he never featured again.

He didn’t refuse to be a substitute - too clever for that - but let it be known he didn’t like it.

Warne felt his struggling side would be better served by better characters and, thus, as a sorry campaign drew to a close, the Millers’ biggest ever earner didn’t sit on the bench or even in the stand.

Midfielder Lee Frecklington, in the midst of injury woes he hopes are now behind him, was always at New York to support the side. So too Dominic Ball, the young defender in limbo after his loan move to Peterborough United went sour. Kirk Broadfoot spent most of the campaign recovering from back surgery yet was a regular in the player seats close to the Press box.

Not Blackstock.

Damned by his absence. Damned by his indifference. Damned by his failure. Damned by his Roundwood rhetoric which promised much and delivered so little.

“It is no secret where Rotherham have come in a short space of time. It is now their third season in the Championship and they want to move up the division and become a more steady, sustainable Championship club and hopefully go from there.”

Then, bearing in mind what was to come, the most unpalatable line of all ...

“I will put everything into Rotherham.”