What a week, huh? And it still isn’t over.

For the second time this season, Plymouth Argyle find themselves without a manager. That’s after Ian Foster was relieved of his duties after another mundane home loss, this time against Bristol City. It was Argyle’s fifth home league defeat on the bounce without scoring; we’re all fairly certain the Greens have never had a worse run of form in front of their own fans. Foster’s sacking was inevitable.

As they did when Steven Schumacher left in December, Neil Dewsnip and Kevin Nancekivell will take charge of first team affairs. Their first game back at the helm together could hardly be more significant. I know I’ve been guilty of saying this a lot lately (and probably will again), but Argyle’s game against Rotherham United tonight is by far their biggest of the season to date.

Argyle simply must win this game. Even during the darkest times this season, the fixture list has been a source of hope. The odds still favour Argyle maintaining their Championship status, mainly because they still have Rotherham to play. Failure to beat the undisputed worst side in the league is simply not an option.

What will the Millers offer in front of the Sky Sports cameras?

Style of play

Rotherham are the league’s long ball team. Their squad for the season, built by previous manager Matt Taylor, was pieced together for such a style. Getting them to play any other way at this stage would frankly be a mess.

The numbers tell their own story. Rotherham have attempted fewer passes than any other Championship side this season, but they’ve actually tried more long passes than anybody else. It’s no surprise, therefore, that their percentage of passes that are long is the highest in the league (23% – every other team in the league plays a long pass less than 20% of the time).

There are other stats that come as no shock. Rotherham’s average possession of 37% is again comfortably the lowest in the league, with Huddersfield Town the only other side to post a figure below 40%. And Rotherham’s long ball style means they’re regularly involved in aerial duels. To be precise, they’ve challenged for 1732 across the campaign which is, say it with me, more than anyone else in the league.

Perhaps unsurprisingly for a team that loses so often, Rotherham have tinkered with their formation. However, manager Leam Richardson tends to opt for some variations on a three at the back system. Hakeem Odoffin and Cameron Humphreys tend to start every game in defence, and I’d expect to see Sebastian Revan drop in as a wide centre back too – he’s versatile but has played in the back line since an injury to Sean Morrison.

The midfield is another unsettled area, though at home recently they’ve tended to trust Zimbabwe international Andy Rinomhota to sit deep. That allows a little more freedom for two of Sam Clucas, Ollie Rathbone and Jamie Lindsay, who will start ahead of him. Cafu – not that one – may get a run out in midfield too at some stage.

Given Rotherham’s injury problems, I’d expect to see Cohen Bramall and Femi Seriki continue in the wing back positions. They started on the left and right respectively in a rare victory over Millwall at the weekend. They’ll play an important role at both ends of the field, and their crossing will be particularly crucial.

See, despite not being particularly synonymous with attacking play, it’s rare to see Rotherham line up without two strikers. Having two bodies in the box for the wing backs to aim for is a key facet of their attack. With that in mind, Jordan Hugill will be a big injury miss. However, they still have the likes of Charlie Wyke, Sam Nombe, and a familiar Argyle foe in Tom Eaves to choose from.

Rotherham’s style of play may well seem more suited to the Stone Age – they are the closest Championship equivalent I’ve been able to find to Argyle’s FA Cup third round opponents Sutton United. Remember though, Sutton caused Argyle more problems than any of us expected, and the Millers will be keen to do the same.


A team at the bottom of the league, 16 points behind the next-worst side, doesn’t have too many strengths to speak of. That much is obvious. However, scratch beneath the surface, and there are a few things we can find that Rotherham do indeed do well, or at least competently.

Their ability to launch the ball forward is an obvious plus, and an example of why building a team based on a philosophy is so important. Under Foster, Argyle attempted a long ball regularly, but didn’t have the tools at their disposal to hold up the ball. It meant Argyle would lose possession quickly, the attacks would become disjointed and…well, we saw what that meant for Foster-ball.

Rotherham are the opposite. They do not possess a number of technical players who can hurt you at a moment’s notice. What they do have are physical specimens who can literally hurt you and win the ball in the air. Hugill was excellent at this but, as we know, Eaves can be a more than able deputy. His ability to win the an aerial duel, bring other players into the game, and get into the box for an eventual cross will be a key part of the hosts’ game plan.

Consider this: Argyle were the dominant force in the reverse fixture against Rotherham, in what proved to be Schumacher’s last game in charge at Home Park. But Argyle’s visitors that day still won the majority (56%) of the aerial duels. Argyle cannot allow that to happen again and, with Foster out of the door, this would be an outstanding game for Dan Scarr to make his long-awaited return.

Goalkeeper Viktor Johansson is also a plus, and has been a rare source of genuine joy for Rotherham fans this season. He’s made 159 saves in the league, more than any other Championship ‘keeper by some margin. But that’s hardly an impressive stat in its own right. Rotherham face more shots than anyone, so of course Johansson is likely to make more saves than other goalkeepers. What really confirms his quality are his stats regarding goals prevented.

Post-shot xG data suggests Johansson has prevented 0.81 goals this season. Again, this doesn’t seem like much, but I’d like to caveat that in two ways. First of all, because of the way own goals always count as 0.00 post-shot xG against the ‘keeper, it’s more likely for a keeper to underperform against what you’d expect than overperform. Indeed, of the 46 goalkeepers to have played in the Championship this season, 17 are overperforming against the post-shot xG they’ve faced, whilst 28 are underperforming (one, Cardiff City’s Ethan Horvath, is dead equal).

Johansson’s figure has also been hurt by some recent drubbings. Rotherham recently lost consecutive away games 5-0 against Coventry City and Norwich City, with Johansson posting some dismal goals prevented numbers (-2.50 and -2.13 respectively) in each. Both put a significant dent in his tally for the season. But did that really matter? If he saved a couple more shots in each game, Rotherham would still have been trounced. In close games, he performs well and can be the difference maker, as he was against Millwall on Monday.

Tonight’s game is almost certain to be a close game. With beating Johansson tough, Argyle will dearly hope Ryan Hardie has relocated his shooting boots ahead of the trip.

Finally, I will just touch on set pieces. For a team with so little to offer creatively, we perhaps shouldn’t be surprised that set pieces are one of the main methods of Rotherham’s chance creation.

34% of Rotherham’s xG has stemmed from set pieces this season. That proportion is second only to Millwall (42%). I do accept that this is a figure that mainly reflects their toothlessness from open play, but Rotherham’s raw set-piece xG of 9.23 is still better than six other sides in the league, including Argyle. Considering how little they create generally, and the low number of set pieces they actually have given they’re usually on the back foot, that’s actually not a bad number.

Rotherham didn’t score from a set piece in the reverse fixture. They did, however, score a goal in a very similar style, with the ball headed across the box for an onrushing attacker. Argyle would be wise not to give away too many cheap fouls around the penalty area.



Blimey, where do you start?

Regular readers of these preview pieces may have noticed a theme across recent months. Whenever I’m looking at a team’s weaknesses, I often have to caveat them by mentioning that “only Rotherham” have a worse record than the team in question. They’ve been that bad.

Rotherham have been the worst team in the Championship all season. They avoided being bottom of the league for part of it, mainly due to Sheffield Wednesday’s inability to win the key moments in their games, but as soon as the Owls sorted themselves out Rotherham were doomed to finish last. That they find themselves so far behind is no coincidence – the Millers are also bottom of the expected points table on 27.46. Their closest “challengers” for that crown are (perhaps surprisingly) Cardiff City, way ahead on 39.67.

If the idea of a successful football team is to create goalscoring chances whilst preventing such chances for your opponents, Rotherham are the opposite. They hold the darkly impressive honour of being the worst team both in attack and defence across the league.

Let’s start with the attack, and some stats which ought to speak for themselves. Rotherham have had just 314 shots across the campaign, with no other side in the Championship having taken fewer than 370. That lack of impetus includes shots from inside the box, for which Rotherham rank 24th, as well as shots outside the box, for which they also rank 24th. Sheffield Wednesday have actually scored fewer goals this season but, much like they did in the league table, I suspect the Owls will overtake before long.

Rotherham’s expected goals stats are no better. Their total tally of 27.24 is obviously the worst in the league, and the difference becomes even more pronounced when we consider expected goals per game. Rotherham have an average xG per game of 0.68, with only two other teams in the league dipping below 1.00. Preston North End, 23rd on the list, still post a figure of 0.90, a whole 32% above the Millers.

In short, Rotherham are totally impotent going forward. But I think even those issues seem insignificant when we look at their defence, where the numbers are almost comical.

The headline figure is that Rotherham have already conceded 81 league goals this season. That’s right: remember how dire Argyle’s defence was in the 2018/19 relegation season? Rotherham have already conceded more goals during this campaign, with six games still to play. Now imagine how many they’d have shipped had they had Matt Macey in goal instead of Johansson.

Unsurprisingly, xG figures again paint a horrible picture. A total xG against of 69.69 is already the worst figure in the league, and that gets compounded when you consider that they underperform. By conceding 81 goals with an xG against of 69.69, Rotherham’s defence are underperforming to a tune of 11.31 goals. Sheffield Wednesday (12.04) are the only greater defensive underperformers. Could this be another metric where we see Wednesday improve against their Yorkshire rivals before the season is out?

You will not be surprised to hear that Rotherham’s clean sheet record is diabolical. From the 40 league games they’ve played this season, they’ve kept four. To put that another way, whenever Rotherham have taken to the field in 2023/24, they have conceded at least once 90% of the time. If you’re an attacking player, you are surely licking your lips at the prospect of facing Richardson and his side.

Rotherham have been so hopeless this season that some stats, which would stick out like a sore thumb for other teams, have fallen by the wayside. So let me try to quickly reel them off. Rotherham have completed the lowest number of dribbles this season, with the second-worst success rate. No team has won fewer fouls. Only Millwall have dropped more points from winning positions. No team in the league has had fewer corners, or launched fewer counter attacks.

Rotherham are going to be playing in League One next season. For our sake, let’s hope that’s confirmed this evening.


It’s perhaps a damning indictment of the state Argyle find themselves in that, despite everything I’ve said above, I’m still not wholly sure whether I’d tip the Greens to win the game. Had Foster still been at the helm, I certainly wouldn’t.

I definitely don’t think they’ll steamroller their opponents. Despite Rotherham’s woes all season, they have still managed to win 19 points at home. Argyle, meanwhile, have only picked up 13 points on their travels. Rotherham are also unbeaten in their last two home games, against some of Argyle’s relegation rivals, and will see this as a game they can certainly win.

That being said, I do believe that Argyle being the better team on paper, combined with the renewed spirit around the club, will be enough to see them over the line. It won’t be easy, but I fancy the Greens to just squeeze through. 2-1 to Argyle.