Rotherham United: Messiah's miracle, Rams ravaged, MK mauled and the Battle of Bristol ... that was the season that was
Paul Davis is the only journalist who has seen every Rotherham United match this season and never missed a press conference. No-one has asked managers questions or interviewed players more often than him. The Star's Millers man takes a personal look back on an unforgettable Championship survival campaign.
Best away day: Milton Keynes, April 9, when the Millers destroyed the Dons 4-0 to all but mathematically wrap up their Championship survival. 3,000 Rotherham fans had been stuck up in the gods at stadiummk but it made no difference. It rained noise and goals all afternoon.
Best away day 2: Bristol City, April 5. Ashton Gate was nasty. Robins boss Lee Johnson had wound up his players and the crowd beforehand with his calls for intimidation and the atmosphere was vile. Millers manager Warnock, who has been round the clock a few times and also taken Sheffield United teams to Hillsborough, described it as the most hostile he had ever experienced. The Millers were men that night. They never took a backward step and were well worth their 1-1 draw. At MK four days later, the home followers in genteel Buckingamshire were a little different. The worst they did when Rotherham scored was tut.
Classiest touch: Matt Derbyshire killing Richard Wood’s long ball stone dead at Bristol before exquisitely lobbing the goalkeeper.
Classiest touch 2: The half-time press-room cheeseboard provided by Derby County at the iPro Stadium.
Goal of the season: Grant Ward’s firecracker at home to Burnley won the club’s award, but it’s Derbs at boiling Bristol for me.
Miss of the season: Adie White’s empty-net howler when he stabbed the ball wide with nobody anywhere near him on opening day in a 4-1 defeat to newly-promoted MK Dons that nobody saw coming. A goal then would have put the Millers 2-1 up. Lovely lad, awful miss.
Personal achievement: Correctly spelling the name of Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe (and, yes, I have just checked Odjidja three times) throughout the Norwich City midfielder’s month-long loan spell.
Personal failure: Referring to Neil Warnock as Neil Redfearn in an online headline and calling New York Stadium DVS in a tweet. Sometimes you have to experience the lows to fully appreciate the Odjidja highs (and, yes, I have just checked Odjidja three times).
Twitter nightmare: Reza Ghoochanneijhad coming on as sub for Charlton Athletic at New York. I ran out of characters and energy halfway through the surname.
Best gesture: Millers fans buying flowers for Warnock’s wife, Sharon, and raising money for her to donate to charity to show their support during her illness.
Best gesture 2: Mrs Warnock’s letter of thanks to those supporters. So moving and eloquent I’m worried she might be after my job.
Conversation I never expected to have: Warnock, despite Sharon buying him cookery lessons, admitted he was having trouble with his dumplings. A press conference was held up for a detailed discussion on stock, water and stews.
Best quote: Then-boss Neil Redfearn warning his players after a 2-0 defeat at Huddersfield in December: “This profession is worth fighting for, let me tell you, because the alternative is getting up at seven in the morning, going to B&Q, working nine until half five, getting paid £5 an hour and getting home at seven at night every day of the week.”
Best quote 2: Warnock, on being asked if he was ‘The Messiah’ after the 1-0 win at the Owls: “I’m going to try to get to the island in the middle of my pond tonight. If I need my boat, I’ll let you know on Monday.”
Best quote 3: Warnock, delighted as the wins kept coming but wearied by all the travelling from his Cornwall base: “I’m The Knackered Messiah.”
Best press catering: The iPro lasagne, salad and garlic bread was tasty fare but Hull City’s steak in red wine pie, even at 11am in the morning before a 12.30pm kick-off, at the KC Stadium just beats it.
Worst press catering: Cardiff City. Tea, coffee and then nothing when the milk ran out.
Best away supporters at New York: Sheffield Wednesday. Loud as you like and, despite the derby rivalry, they played a full part in a fans-generated minute’s applause late on for a Millers follower who had passed away. I was proud to see Rotherham supporters return the compliment at Hillsbrough as fans marked the passing of two Owls sisters.
Team of the season: This is based purely on individual performances I saw in person. 4-4-2: GK Button (Brentford); RB Christie (Derby); CB Hanley (Blackburn), CB Robinson (Birmingham), LB Ward (Burnley); RM Elmohamady (Hull), CM Judge (Brentford), CM Barton (Burnley), LM Ince (Derby); CF Gray (Burnley), CF McCormack (Fulham).
Best individual display against the Millers: Ross McCormack in Fulham’s 4-1 win at Craven Cottage just after Christmas. It was Cottagers boss Slavisa Jokanovic’s first match and McCormack was keen to impress. He did. His eye for a goal, clever passing, scampering pace and deft runs as he kept spinning off defenders were too much for Rotherham to handle.
Best individual display by a Miller: Striker Danny Ward in the 2-0 home win over Hull. Same player in the 1-0 victory at Wednesday. Pace, power, control and perpetual motion. Ran the centre-halves of both teams ragged. During chats with Rotherham players after interviews, Ward’s is the name that often crops up as a teammate they really rate.
Big, fat fib of the season: Millers media man and all-round top bloke Matt Young saying in October, as the weather started to change, that he’d try to fix up hot drinks before press conferences. It’s May now. Still cold. Still thirsty.
Best photograph: Jim Brailsford generally snaps for The Star and does a cracking job, yet on the pre-season tour of Scotland he sent back a penalty-area picture of a seagull. No players or ball anywhere. When I asked why, he replied: “I quite like birds.”
Biggest moment: Lee Frecklington’s late winner at home to Middlesbrough in early March. It was then that the players and many fans really started believing that staying up just might be on.
Biggest moment 2: Leon’s Best’s equalising New York header in time added on against Derby. Three down with seven minutes to play against one of the best teams in the division and the Millers hit back to draw. It was just crazy, and made all the sweeter by Rams boss Darren Wassell having been spotted blowing kisses to the crowd at 3-0. Warnock didn’t like that one bit and says the comeback is his abiding memory of the Millers’ survival miracle.
Sad case of hypochondria: Woody, the centre-half and Star columnist, is as tough as they come but he can’t seem to get through a match without needing a head bandage (Reading, Brentford, Wolves) or knocking out a tooth (Blackburn). He’s off to Greece with his wife and kids and expects to keep active with sessions in the pool. Rumour has it Mrs Wood has packed smelling salts, plasters, armbands and a lifeguard.
Best assistant: The drunk swigging red wine straight from the bottle sat next to me on the train back from Cardiff who helped me with my marks despite having heard of no Rotherham player other than Luciano Becchio. Happily, he (the passanger, not Becchio) got off at Burton to buy another bottle and never made it back on. Becchio injured himself, after two sub appearances, not long after and never made it back in.
Welcome sight: Super-fan John Norris (1,000-plus consecutive matches and counting), always stood somewhere near the players’ entrance when I arrive at New York at 1.15pm on Saturdays. I’m slightly offended, mind, as I reckon I’m the only person he has never asked for an autograph. He also agrees with me on Goal of the Season, by the way.
Debut? What debut? Rotherham winger Jerome Thomas is a brilliant talker who made his Arsenal debut against the Millers at Highbury back in 2003. “What do you remember about that game, Jerome?” “Er, I don’t remember it all actually.” “It was your first match, the Carling Cup. You won a penalty shoot-out 9-8.” “Erm, it’s ringing a slight bell, but, no, I don’t recall it.”
Dressing-room daddy: Big shouts here for Frecklington and Kirk Broadfoot, but Derbyshire’s sharp wit makes him the main man. He’s had the Premier League and Champions League career and earned the money but is just one of the lads. No edge to him whatsoever. When the banter is in full swing at the training ground, his is the voice you hear loudest and most often.
Biggest impact: Warnock. February arrival, Millers in the drop zone. Last day May 7, Rotherham nine points clear. Survival saviour. The Messiah. Enough said.
Biggest impact 2: Frecks. Came back early from injury, played in every one of the unbeaten 11 games that followed and was an inspiration in nearly all of them. Survival saviour mk II. Enough said.
Final word: Nah, can’t be bothered. Enough said.