The attacking instincts of manager Paul Warne are behind the disappearing act of £300,000 Rotherham United defender Ben Purrington.
The free-scoring Millers have marched into League One promotion contention with an unbeaten run of 14 games and have won their last seven matches on the trot as they head into tomorrow’s home clash with Rochdale.
But left-back Purrington, signed from Plymouth Argyle in January in 2017, has become a forgotten man during Rotherham’s rise and is no longer even making the bench.
Warne admits the 21-year-old, kept out of the starting 11 by the form of Joe Mattock, is frustrated by his lack of action but says other members of his squad offer him better options as substitutes.
“At any other League One club, Ben would be in the 18 comfortably,” said Warne. “But I try to make my bench as attacking as I can. I normally have one token defender who can play in more than one position.
“For example, if I put Icky (Michael Ihiekwe) on the bench, he can play centre-half, right-back or left-back. Shaun Cummings, if he was on the bench, could probably play right-back, left-back or sitting midfielder.
“But I think Ben is an out and out left-back. Sometimes when I pick the squad, I just look at the fact that if I want a defender on the bench I want the one who can cover the most positions.”
A solid defender, Purrington initially impressed when he stepped up two divisions to play in last term’s Championship relegation campaign, before his form fell away. Mattock offers more going forward, particularly in his link-up with winger Joe Newell.
Purrington, identified as a Millers target before Warne stepped up to become caretaker manager in November 2016, hasn’t played any first-team football since limping out of the game at Blackburn Rovers in September with a hamstring problem, even though he has been fit for weeks.
When Mattock missed the clash at Shrewsbury Town late last month, Warne chose Ihiekwe to play left-back as fourth-placed Rotherham toppled the then-leaders. Purrington travelled but wasn’t included in the matchday 18.
“Ben is obviously hugely disappointed he’s not in the team or in the squad, and rightly so,” Warne said. “He probably thinks he should be in the team. If he doesn’t, then he’s in the wrong job really.
“The biggest disappointment for him was when Joe was injured and I played Icky at Shrewsbury. In fairness, I picked Icky because he had come on early in the previous game when Joe was injured and done really well and I like to reward performances.
“That was just unfortunate for Ben. If Icky had come on in the 85th minute, it might have been a completely different decision from me for the next game. Although it looks bad from Ben’s point of view, from my point of view it’s not that personal.
“Our bench is strong and, in fairness, a different manager might have him on it or in the team. It’s all about opinions.”
Purrington has featured in only four league fixtures this term and it may be that a parting of the ways at the end of the season would benefit club and player, even though the youngster has a contract until the summer of 2020.
“I know it’s personal to Ben because he isn’t on the bench, but it isn’t to do with a dearth in his abilities as a left-back,” Warne added.
“Unfortunately for Ben, it’s elite sport, it’s not charity. He has to just wait and train hard so that when his chance does come he performs to his absolute best.”
Warne and Newell lost out in the Sky Bet League One Manager and Player of the Month awards to Plymouth Argyle boss Derek Adams and Blackburn Rovers striker Adam Armstrong respectively.