Key player: Michael Smith
One major philosophical pillar of Warne’s leadership as manager is his flexibility. He prioritises results over pretty football. That’s not to say the two are incompatible but with a big striker like Smith, a long ball style seems to be the most practical approach.
Smith is well known to most lower league fans, filling the role of the archetypal lower league target man wherever he goes. At most clubs, he has done this successfully and his lack of goals have been more than made up for by a good all round contribution. Think Ryan Taylor for Argyle before his ankles fell apart. He has become more known for his spell at Rotherham than any other club and he would dearly love to have another crack at Championship football via a promotion.
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Manager: Paul Warne
Sometimes a manager comes in and he just strikes a chord at a club. Despite a relatively mixed bag of results, Warne has always retained a very high level of popularity among Rotherham fans. They have become a yoyo club under his leadership. In truth, they were already down when he took over mid-season in 2016/17 but four seasons of consistent promotion and relegation concurrently ensured that they’re exactly where they started in the summer of Warne’s first full season. In fact, the 15/16 season was the last time that Rotherham stayed in the same division rather than bouncing between England’s second and third tier.
Warne is known for his positivity and charisma, earning the respect of his playing and non-playing staff alike. In truth, Rotherham have probably punched above their weight under his tenure, as their promotion squads were never really in the best three in the league.
That said, last season was the bitterest of all their yoyo relegations for the simple reason that it was the most avoidable. The Millers were well clear of the relegation zone with many games in hand before an awful run of form saw them sucked in to the bottom three. A gutting last minute goal against Cardiff saw them drop into the bottom three and it was Derby who benefited from their loss. Warne seemed dejected at the end of the season and hinted his future may be in doubt. Yet, the charismatic manager has remained for one more crack at promotion out of this league. He will surely depart if Rotherham cannot maintain their pattern and go up at the end of it.
Danger man: Freddie Ladapo
A familiar name to Argyle fans, Ladapo is a player who has divided opinion at Argyle and Rotherham alike. In many ways, he can be a frustrating player. For someone who scores a lot of goals, his quality of finishing can be quite variable and despite his many obvious qualities, he does not often contribute too well when it comes to build-up and link-up play.
As a wide forward in Rotherham’s 4-3-3- formation however, he has a lot he can bring to the side. Firstly, there’s no argument on the point that he is a very good scorer for this level. Whilst he does miss some chances, you simply can’t argue with his record, especially for a non penalty taker. He got 19 for Argyle in 2018/19 and 17 in a Covid-impacted 2019/20 for Rotherham. Furthermore, he has electric pace which should surely be able to stretch defenders out of position and allow space for others to exploit.
Key departure: Matt Crooks
A defensive midfielder primarily, Crooks is also capable of some dynamic play going forward. The Yorkshire man became best known to lower league fans for his very successful spell at Accrington that saw him earn a big move to SPL Rangers. Whilst his spell at Ibrox wasn’t exactly a roaring success, he was able to firmly re establish himself as a wanted man in lower league football, a good spell at Northampton earning him a move to Rotherham.
Much in the tradition of Rotherham, Crooks has one promotion and one relegation to his name. You could say he simply left them back where he started with them but that would be to undermine the impact he’s had on the side throughout that time. A crunching ball-winning midfielder, he became vital to the direct style Paul Warne has established.
That’s not to say he can’t play a bit of football too, but primarily his strengths are defensive. Another direct manager, Neil Warnock, has signed him up and he actually scored against Argyle 8 minutes into his pre-season friendly debut. In a side based around togetherness and team spirit, he’ll not be easy to replace.
Rotherham are the ultimate yoyo side and perhaps it may be logical to assume they’ll sail to promotion once again. However, there are reasons to suggest they might find this season a lot harder for them to do this. Firstly, the league itself looks a lot tougher, with sides like Ipswich and Wigan capable of spending them out of contention.
Secondly, Warne’s demeanour at the end of the season was not easy to forget. Whilst you might argue that momentum doesn’t usually carry over seasons [editor’s note, it doesn’t. Sam tried to make the same argument when I told him Hull would challenge for the title last season, so…], there was an agonising sense that they had ruined their best chance at survival of the three. Thirdly, they have not signed well to replace the loss of Crooks or to add much quality to their squad in already-weak areas. They will do well to squeak into the top six but it’s not impossible.
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