Whether it was a point gained or an opportunity missed on Tuesday night against bottom-placed Derby County will depend on how the next few games go. We are now four games unbeaten and four games clear of the relegation zone, there is an opportunity over the coming weeks to pull away from danger. In order to do so, we are going to have to win games at a faster rate than we’ve achieved this season, which is likely to involve being more proactive in games.
Any game against a fellow promoted side is a bellwether of how a team has progressed since moving up a division. This upcoming match against a Rotherham United side that thrashed us just over a year ago before looking the superior side in a 1-1 draw when we were at the peak of our powers last season could provide us with the confidence that we have continued to improve as a team or show us how far we are from being a competitive team at this level.
The biggest concern for Mark Robins heading into this game is likely to be over fitness and fatigue. With Rotherham United a physically powerful team who are likely to press us high up the pitch, small losses in our intensity could well be exposed here.
Without knowing the exact fitness levels of each player, it’s hard to foresee just who might be struggling at the moment. Based on Tuesday night’s performance at Derby County, Sam McCallum might be the player Mark Robins has the biggest fitness concerns over. The decision over whether to take him out of the side for this game will rest on whether the manager is willing to move away from a back four system that has dramatically improved our defensive record.
Aside from fitness, Mark Robins needs to figure out an effective attacking system if we are to start winning games more consistently. Finding a way to get Gustavo Hamer and Ryan Giles involved as much as possible seems our best bet to becoming a threatening team going forward, as does getting Tyler Walker into positions where he can get shots on goal. Whether that involves a 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1, 4-4-2 or something else entirely, the current set-up has sacrificed attacking threat for defensive security.
Last Time We Met
Having felt like we had established ourselves as one of the best sides in the division, Rotherham demonstrated in the first-half of our most recent meeting that we still had a way to go before we could consider ourselves the best. The intensity and speed with which they played made it difficult for us to get anything going in possession and caused us plenty of problems at the back. It was unfortunate that their goal came from a horrendous error from Marko Marosi as he dropped a catch from a corner under little pressure to hand Freddie Ladapo a tap-in, but it reflected Rotherham’s dominance of the game.
Early in the second-half, some quick thinking from Liam Walsh saw him switch the play to Fankaty Dabo, who picked out Matt Godden in space with a perfectly-aimed cross that was headed into the back of the net. There were few chances for either side from that point onwards, but the Sky Blues had done enough overall to earn a draw.
The Manager – Paul Warne
Warne is a charismatic personality who has rallied Rotherham United from a low ebb at the bottom of the Championship into twice winning promotion back to this level. A relative lack of resources has meant that he has yet to establish Rotherham in the second-tier, but by placing an emphasis on fitness, physicality and intensity, he has made the Millers a tough team to play against for any side in this division.
Although Rotherham are currently a place below us in the table, they have looked far more competitive in this division than any of the promoted teams. Their finishing has let them down, but they look much more capable of creating chances and sustaining pressure on teams at this level than either the Sky Blues or Wycombe Wanderers. This is a game they’re going to be coming into to attack, especially after a run of poor recent results against good teams that has seen them slip down the table.
Who To Look Out For
At this level of football, Rotherham aren’t a side packed with outstanding individuals, but it is the overall work ethic and physical intensity that is their stand-out quality and will cause us the biggest problems in this game.
The biggest area of threat for Rotherham in this game is the physicality that they have in abundance in attack. Target-man, Michael Smith, has consistently caused us problems in the past and is a central figure in Rotherham’s attack even if he doesn’t score a tonne of goals. Freddie Ladapo – while also another tall and well-built player – is more of a poacher than a target-man and has found a bit of form in front of goal lately. In addition, George Hirst is another physically pre-possessing figure who can be deployed later-on in games, while Kyle Vassell is the one short man among Rotherham’s attacking giants.
Out wide, a serious injury suffered by winger Chiedozie Ogbene early in the season has robbed Rotherham of the pace that gave their attack diversity last season. Former Doncaster Rovers forward, Kieran Sadlier, is the main threat from the wings at the moment but is a player who is more of a threat in terms of getting into attacking positions rather than creating them himself.
In midfield, the permanent signing of Daniel Barlaser after an excellent loan spell last season provides Rotherham with the ability to control things in the centre of the park if they need to. Barlaser is complemented by the energy levels and physical presences of at least one from Ben Wiles, Jamie Lindsay and Matt Crooks, which can make Rotherham an overwhelming team in the middle of the park.
At the back, Rotherham have further physicality in the form of Michael Ihiekwe and Angus MacDonald at centre-back and the giant Wes Harding, who can join them to make a back three or slot in at right-back. The team’s emphasis on physical attributes even stretches to the goalkeeper, Jamal Blackman, who stands at just under six foot seven.
Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost
The primary challenge we are set to face in this game is being able to cope with the physical intensity of Rotherham at both ends of the pitch. We have tended to struggle this season with teams that press us high, which is exactly what Rotherham’s game is based on. While they don’t quite have the finishing ability as teams like Brentford, Blackburn and Bournemouth in order to seize on every mistake, it is likely to be hard for us to get into any kind of rhythm.
The main way to get around the press is to play longer passes, which is going to be asking a lot of Tyler Walker if he is played on his own in attack. After the striker failed to get a shot on goal on Tuesday night against Derby County, it may force Mark Robins into considering whether Maxime Biamou is the better option for this game – either as the lone striker or in a pairing with Walker. If Biamou isn’t used, it is essential that the midfield stands up to Rotherham’s physicality and can get up and support Walker in attack.
With Rotherham posing a big threat from set-pieces, Ben Wilson’s ability to command his penalty area is going to be provided its sternest test thus far. Given how weak we have generally looked from dead-ball situations, it would be nice to limit them as much as possible. This could be a tight game decided by fine margins such as a set-piece.