Rotherham favourites for the title? Niall Geoghegan loves it!
After the results of last Tuesday’s fixtures, some bookmakers replaced Notts County as their favourites to win the League Two title for the first time since the Magpies were famously taken over in the summer by billionaire owners. Who replaced them?
The team who, at the start of this month, were in a mini-crisis, having won just once in six attempts under new boss Ronnie Moore. Four straight wins later and there’s nothing more certain than that we’ll be in League One next season. Funny old game.
The turnaround started when, at the beginning of the month, Wealdstone keeper Sean Thomas’ day of FA Cup glory was ruined when he wellied the ball straight at the charging Adam Le Fondre, the ball cannoning excruciatingly off Alfie’s backside and into the gaping net to ease the nerves for the out-of-form Millers who could afford nothing but a win against the Isthmian League side.
For all the eventual 3-2 victory was unconvincing and unnecessarily difficult, it brought the winning feeling back, and that Le Fondre goal finally put an end to the rotten luck we’d been subjected to by the apparent anti-Ronnie gods. Since then, we’ve nicked late winners away from home at stern opposition, and witnessed the best striker in the division rip Lincoln City to shreds. It does, I scarcely dare say, seem to be coming together nicely.
It hasn’t been easy for Ronnie. The initial nirvana surrounding his return quickly spiralled into frantic worries of him changing a winning team and implementing his own style too early (a style, argue some, that doesn’t work in the modern game). Moore’s a legend and his reign from 1997-2005 remains the golden era for many Millers, but even the optimists weren’t oblivious to the drawbacks of his return. Are his methods pre-historic? Will he go long ball? Will he try bringing in his own ‘tried and trusted’ men rather than trust the already-impressive group that flourished under Robins before his September departure?
But Ronnie’s played it well. He changed nothing for one or two games as he had no right to. But what was brilliant was that, once the dust had settled and the games kicked in, he identified our weaknesses and acted to change them. Last season, Mark Robins’ team were effective but the main weakness lied in a midfield who were peripheral at best, inexistent at worst.
Robbo acted by bringing in the undisputedly talented Nicky Law, but he has always looks more suited to a wide role. Other than that, he stuck with a central midfield consisting of players who sit in the midfield turning neither head nor stomach. What did Moore do within two weeks of arrival? He stated publicly, based on a game or two and some training sessions, that we needed a new midfielder.
By the third week he’d brought in former Yeovil midfielder Gary Roberts, who appears a splendid talent for this level if he can put his personal problems aside. Equally, we’ve lacked natural width for years – last week we signed Rochdale’s ever-threatening dribbler Adam Rundle.
And that, somehow, sums up why Ronnie is a more likeable manager. He manages to see things as the fans do, and, while the fans aren’t always right, it helps his popularity when he is making decisions that the fans agree with. Robins, on the other hand, would infuriate the hundreds of supporters who endure a gutless 3-0 defeat at struggling Grimsby by telling the post-match press that our inability to function a shot on target constitutes as ‘we could have won that game three times’.
Our form has slipped in the last couple of matches – defeat at the New Meadow and the stupid concession of a comfortable lead against Burton has stunted our progression, and, although we remain 3rd, Notts County are breathing their gust of fortune down our necks. The remainder of December is tough (barring a Boxing Day banker against the hapless Darlington) but while ever we’re only half way through, no defeat can crush your season. The crunch games start coming a bit after Christmas. And hopefully, by then, Ronnie will have used his experience – combined with the January window of opportunity – to give us the solid footing we need to push on for automatic promotion.
In a rare opportunity to drift from league matters, the FA Cup reared its head again last week as we drew 2-2 with Blue Square side Luton. That result means a replay on Tuesday will have to decide the winner but nonetheless we were in the hat for the third round of the FA Cup for the first time since 2001. Ahh, the excitement of the FA Cup draw. The mouth-watering prospects, the unbearable tension, the praying you don’t draw Gillingham… it’s as big a rollercoaster as the cup game itself. The criteria for exactly who you want to draw can be complex, but if broken down into four general parts, it looks a bit like this:
First of all, if it’s going to be against a team who wouldn’t get crowds of over 10-15,000 at their place then you want them at home. A 50 per cent gate receipt split on those sorts of crowds is barely worth the effort of scraping past Wealdstone.
Secondly, if you’re going to be a League One or Championship team, be a rubbish one. Don’t you dare be a side who are actually going to comprehensively beat us but, at the same time, not be a deliciously attractive Premier League club. Don’t be too far away; we’ve already got Torquay and Bournemouth in the division. And try not to be someone we’ve played recently; that makes it less of an occasion.
So, as frantic begs of ‘not them, not them’ were spluttered as quickly as the sigh of relief ensued when we avoided away ties at the likes of Brentford and MK Dons, number 53 continued to hold out, and time drew further on with us still left in the hat. Number 52 came out away at Stockport and for that split second you were left wondering whether your memory had fooled you and we weren’t 53 at all, but no, it was fine, it was Brighton after all.
And suddenly, there we were, deep into the draw, still in the hat with Manchester United and Liverpool, the dream of drawing a major footballing beast was upon us as Steve Redgrave delved his hand into the pot to finally take us to the Theatre of Dr… Southampton away. Jesus! Millwall would have been better.
Can we re-check the criteria? Will the gate be bigger than 15,000? Nah. Are you going to beat us? You are actually, yes! Your lowly league position is false and you spent £1,000,000 on a proven goalscorer a few months ago. Have we played you recently? Oh, only last season.
Oh well, at least you’re within a 4 hour dri…oh no, wait, you’re about the furthest away team in the entire country. Ahh dear. Well, as we mournfully switch ITV off and sigh ‘maybe next year’, there is a shred of consolation hiding behind the utter disappointment of that draw: we’ll lose at Luton anyway.
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