Rotherham United: What fighter Frecklington means to the Millers

On the way to Championship survival with Neil WarnockOn the way to Championship survival with Neil Warnock
On the way to Championship survival with Neil Warnock
He drove Neil Warnock to distraction. In the right kind of way.

Lee Frecklington was a vital player in last season’s Championship run-in but he was nursing a calf complaint that could be aggravated at any time.

Warnock, then the manager leading the Millers’ amazing survival charge, knew how much his side needed their midfield talisman, so he ordered him to go easy in training.

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A familiar sight ... a goal for Frecks, this time against Leeds in AprilA familiar sight ... a goal for Frecks, this time against Leeds in April
A familiar sight ... a goal for Frecks, this time against Leeds in April

“What can you do with him?” the veteran boss would moan with a mix of exasperation and admiration at every subsequent press conference. “He doesn’t listen.

“He’s out there running round like a maniac every day. He can’t stop himself.”

Millers fans already knew it. Warnock, in charge for only 16 matches, took little time to discover it. No player gives more to the cause than Frecks.

News that the all-action club captain has pledged himself to Rotherham until 2018 will be met with delight by supporters who revere the last remaining playing link between now and the promotions of 2013 and 2014 under Steve Evans.

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Engulfed by fans as he seals promotion to League OneEngulfed by fans as he seals promotion to League One
Engulfed by fans as he seals promotion to League One

The 30-year-old had a year left on his deal, but his significance to the Millers is such that the club moved to give him an extra 12 months.

It’s just reward for a player with a warrior spirit who fought back from an injury-blighted spell last term to help to galvanise Rotherham just when they needed him most.

It was Neil Redfearn’s great loss that Frecklington pulled his calf at Preston in early January and didn’t return until the end of February. By then, Redfearn had paid with his job as the Millers struggled and it was Warnock who reaped the benefit when Frecks declared himself fit ahead of schedule and against medical advice.

His comeback coincided with the February 27 2-1 home win over Brentford which sparked the famous unbeaten run that secured Rotherham’s great escape. He started in every one of those games and Rotherham were a different team with him in it.

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Embracing Denis Circuit after scoring against Preston in the play-off semi-finalEmbracing Denis Circuit after scoring against Preston in the play-off semi-final
Embracing Denis Circuit after scoring against Preston in the play-off semi-final

They beat promotion-chasing Sheffield Wednesday, Middlesbrough - with a certain No 8 scoring the late winner amid AESSEAL New York Stadium pandemonium - Ipswich Town and Leeds United (No 8 on target again), then set up safety with an away demolition of MK Dons.

Eleven matches. Six wins. Five draws.

Frecks’ contribution, with his ceaseless running, his constant probing, his willingness to put his body on the line, went beyond impressive. It was inspiring.

The club’s data showed that no player covered as much ground in a game as he did.

Securing Championship survival in 2015 with a goal against ReadingSecuring Championship survival in 2015 with a goal against Reading
Securing Championship survival in 2015 with a goal against Reading

New Rotherham boss Alan Stubbs was in charge of Scottish side Hibernian while Frecklington was performing his heroics, but news travelled north of the border.

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“I knew about him before I came down here,” Stubbs told The Star. “It was important to tie Lee down. He’s the club captain and his performances are obviously very important to us.

“I’m delighted he’s committed his future to us. Hopefully, we can get even more out of him.

“At Hibs, we just couldn’t sign players of Lee’s calibre. We couldn’t afford the wages for players of that quality, so it’s great to be working with him now.”

Frecklington joined the Millers on loan from Peterborough United in October 2012 during the League Two promotion season. A goal on his debut in a 3-1 triumph at Aldershot gave a taste of things to come and the move was made permanent the following January.

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Now he is up there among the most popular players in Rotherham’s history.

Hammering in the winner against MiddlesbroughHammering in the winner against Middlesbrough
Hammering in the winner against Middlesbrough

One hundred and thirty four starts. 10 sub appearances. 29 goals.

League One couldn’t hold him and the fact he didn’t make the Team of the Year was a travesty. In 42 league matches he scored 11 goals, ran the show in central midfield and everyone forgave him for missing a spot-kick in the Wembley play-off final penalty shoot-out success against Leyton Orient which took the Millers into the Championship.

Brentford midfielder Adam Forshaw, a cracking little player at that level, was voted the division’s Player of the Season. On a memorable March 2014 night at New York Rotherham beat the Bees 3-0 and Frecklington murdered their star man; absolutely murdered him.

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In the second leg of the play-off semi-final against Preston North End - an occasion which many fans still say generated the best ever atmosphere at New York - he scored with an emphatic header to set up a 3-1 win and ran straight into the arms of physio Denis Circuit.

Frecks had been up at dawn in the days building up to the game, driving from his Lincoln home to the Roundwood training complex so the pair could start work around 7.30am on a knee injury which threatened to keep the midfield man on the sidelines.

That Preston goal was probably his finest moment of that campaign, and the 5ft 9in dynamo has made a habit of scoring vital goals at the business end of a season.

In his first year, he clipped in the League Two promotion-clinching goal in the last minute of the last game, against Aldershot, sparking a pitch invasion where fans buried him to such a degree I actually feared for his safety.

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He emerged, far too many seconds later, tousled-haired and sporting that cheeky, impish grin that so endears him to everyone connected to the club.

The next season brought the Preston contribution to pave the way to Wembley, and 12 months later he fired home the crucial second goal in a 2-1 win over Reading in the final home match to seal Championship survival and allow Evans to taunt Millwall striker Lee Gregory who had questioned the Millers’ bottle.

A three-point deduction. Two fingers to it. 12 bottles of Evans pink champagne.

Last term, with Warnock at the helm, Rotherham stunned second-placed Middlesbrough at New York in March, Frecklington smashing home the 87th-minute winner. That was the night, several players later admitted, the squad really started to believe the survival miracle might just be on.

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The boss who brought him to the Millers always knew he had a diamond on his hands. Many a player, good and not so good, fell foul of the manager’s sharp temper and desperate will to win, but not the former Lincoln City man.

“He was incredible for me,” Evans simply said.

After two seasons of glory, Frecklington’s first Championship year at New York was hampered by injury and the second was going the same way until the crazy climax that no-one will ever forget.

Typical of the man and his desire, when everyone knew after he’d pulled up at Deepdale on January 2 that the injury was serious and would keep him out for weeks, he was targeting the Queens Park Rangers match a fortnight later for his return.

Rotherham won 13 times in their 46 league matches in 2015/16. Frecklington played in only 27 of those games but still featured in 10 of the wins. Warnock lost two and drew one of his first three matches after his mid-February arrival. With Frecks back in the side, Rotherham then equalled a second-tier club best that had stood for 50 years.

No-one epitomises the Millers and their values the way he does.

Two promotions. Two survivals. One legend.