Rotherham United: The Millers have lost a good man in Neil Redfearn

Happier days for Neil Redfearn and Tony Stewart
Happier days for Neil Redfearn and Tony Stewart
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Ah, the grim ironies of football.

Neil Redfearn when he was at Leeds United, working under the crazy, unstable regime of Massimo Cellino, lasted 33 matches in charge.

Neil Redfearn's last game in charge, at Bolton

Neil Redfearn's last game in charge, at Bolton

Today, he parted company after just 21 games with Rotherham United, owned by Tony Stewart, a man of integrity and enterprise, held up as an example to failing clubs everywhere of how a chairman should run a football operation.

No-one saw it coming. Least of all, I suspect, Redfearn who had won the respect and liking of everyone who had come in contact with him since he assumed control on October 12.

The manager charged with taking Rotherham in a new direction after the departure of Steve Evans took training as normal this morning before being summoned to a meeting that ended his brief reign.

The club had allowed him to be active throughout the January transfer window and only last week he appointed a new assistant manager in Nicky Eaden, so this wasn’t a sacking that had been long in the planning.

Neil Redfearn with new No 2 Nicky Eaden

Neil Redfearn with new No 2 Nicky Eaden

It was a reaction to two bad results.

After an awful start to his tenure - five Championship defeats and a draw against teams who have either flirted with the play-offs this season or still hold a top-six spot - Redfearn was showing signs of turning things round.

His next 12 league matches brought five wins, including victories over top sides Hull City and Brighton, and a draw.

But then came Charlton Athletic and Bolton Wanderers.

Defeat against Charlton

Defeat against Charlton

Rotherham were out of the bottom three by the time Charlton came to town on January 30 and looking a good bet for survival.

But, against a team below them in the table, the Millers crashed, badly, 4-1 at home, and followed that up by losing, undeservedly, 2-1 to a last-gasp goal on Saturday at Bolton who had started the match in bottom place.

Many supporters had been anticipating wins from those two games and the defeats hurt. Who they came against, with the Addicks and Trotters gaining ground, meant that a lost chance to take six points also became a 12-point survival setback.

Social-media fans’ forums were full of cries - one or two well-argued, many not - from the very vocal minority for Redfearn to be fired.

Well, they got their wish, and now a thoroughly decent man, a thoroughly football man, has gone.

Stewart lacks for nothing in the decency stakes either and making this decision, with the help of his board, will have hurt him deeply.

The next manager, even if he is appointed before the next match against Birmingham, has only 16 fixtures in which to try to keep the Millers up.

Rotherham felt that Evans had been allowed to operate too much unchecked, so Redfearn was a member of a newly-created technical board which oversaw all aspects of the club including recruitment.

Claiming the squad he had inherited wasn’t strong enough to stay up, he said several times in the initial stages he was happy with the support he received from Stewart and other board members, but two cracks emerged at the weekend.

Richard Stewart, vice-chairman and son of Tony, used his Twitter page to question how many goals Rotherham were conceding while Redfearn, after proceedings at the Macron Stadium, said: “We’re shopping at a different market to everybody else.”

The Millers, now back in the drop zone, maintain their budget is a competitive Championship one, while Redfearn suffered cruel luck in that three of his main signings, free agents Leon Best, Stephen Kelly and Luciano Becchio, have all been hit by injury.

He was a warm, approachable bloke, with friendly eyes and a ready laugh, even buying the media lads posh biscuits when he called his press conference for Christmas Eve and we told him Steve McClaren had provided mince pies up in Newcastle.

I once asked him if he enjoyed the press duties which come with the job and he replied: “I just like talking about football.” He was right. Interviewing him didn’t seem like an exercise in questions and answers, it felt like a conversation.

Not that he was anything of a soft touch. Centre-half Danny Collins said early on he suspected he “has a good row in him when he needs one”, and you got the impression that the iron of his handshake could be matched by that of his character.

After a defeat at Huddersfield Town on December 15, when his side didn’t turn up, Redfearn famously warned them they might end up working at a DIY superstore if they continued to perform like that.

They won their next two matches.

He was so angry that Tuesday night in West Yorkshire because he cared. For the club. About his squad. About where the Millers were headed under his leadership. It made headlines, but he wasn’t a self-publicist.

It was never about him. It was always about the players.

He talked about educating them, about making them better as people as well as performers, about taking fear away from them, about giving them an environment in which they could flourish.

“When I leave this club I want it to be in a better place then when I took over,” said Redfearn. Little did he know his exit would be less than a fortnight away.

His remit, short term, had been to keep Rotherham in the second tier this season as the club sought to introduce a more measured transfer policy while, long term, creating a structure which would see young talent given a pathway to the first team.

He was well on with the latter, citing last month’s arrival of former Leeds youngster Chris Dawson as a flagship signing for the under-21 development squad he was creating. Now, we’ll never know now about the former.

What is certain is that life in the Championship doesn’t get any easier.

Just as a daunting run of fixtures greeted their now former manager, the Millers’ next eight opponents include Birmingham City, Burnley, Sheffield Wednesday, Middlesbrough, Derby County and Ipswich Town.

With his excellent reputation in the game, Redfearn won’t be out of work for long. I have no inside information on this, but maybe managerless Barnsley, where he was a legend as a player, could be a potential destination.

Put it this way, the next time I buy a new drill, he won’t be serving me at B&Q.