Fan’s View 2017/18 (no.36) Rotherham away

Article by Paul Beasley

Rotherham United 3 Oxford United 1

My trip to South Yorkshire started at 8:30 as I had a lift with someone who’d arranged various business meetings on the route up north. It wasn’t quite bring an old git football fan to work day though which meant my longest wait was a couple of hours in the Organ Grinder in Loughborough where I sampled three pints from the Blue Monkey range. (Monkey. Organ Grinder. Geddit?) An interesting brewery providing excellent beers. The pork pies in there were well worth the visit too.


More enjoyable in here than in the New York Stadium

Next stop was a suburban establishment on the road from Rotherham to Wickersley, the Stag. The layout is that seen in hundreds of drinking establishments which bores me but the beer didn’t. More choice, more quality and just £2.25 a pint. I subsequently discovered there’s a 10% CAMRA discount which I didn’t claim.

Nearer the New York Stadium the last stop was the Bridge. This no longer features in the Good Beer Guide but the pint I drank said it should.

Right, time to tell it how it is. Again the beer and company on the journey and in the Bridge are what make for an enjoyable day out but if it wasn’t for the football I wouldn’t be in these places. And once more the football was a complete let down.

Also time to pick a couple of lines I’ve previously posted in FVs.

“We’re not going up or down”.  “That said, more soul destroying displays like this and we’ll likely get sucked in and arrive with no heart or drive which would be a major concern”. I’ve also said I reserve the right to change my opinion as the body of evidence builds. And boy is it building in a terrifying manner.

At present those who have been spouting doom and gloom for months are looking way more bang on than the “it will all turn out okay in the end” brigade.

We do not look like a league one outfit.

We’re now 13th. Walsall, with a game in hand, could go above us. We’re seven points better off than Wimbledon in 21st position. Rochdale are bottom, sixteen points worse off than us but have played four fewer matches.

Irrespective of our current league position and points total, the pertinent issue is our current form and our direction of travel.

Our win at Charlton was only ten days ago but seems a lifetime. I had no faith that we would get anything from the game at Rotherham. I have no faith that we will get even a point when Argyle come a-visiting this Saturday. I’m taking each game at a time but a few fans have mentioned to me that we’ve got a difficult set of fixtures coming up.

That’s very scary but realistically, the way we’re currently playing, Charlton excepted, we make every game a difficult fixture. Rotherham are now fourth and looked a good side to me. Whether that is true is hard to judge though because we are now such feeble opposition. There’s nothing to beat.

We are a hollow shell of a team. We have no reliable spine. We had way too many inexperienced players out there. And of the two or three with experience none is really showing it. They are doing very little to bring the younger ones along, encourage them and get them playing as a collective hard to beat unit.

No one is stepping up. Not those with plenty of games under their belts nor any of the newbies who have an opportunity here to show that they have genuinely got something to offer and can dig in during the hard times.

Get Dickie in (ooh err missus) people pleaded. We did. We still shipped three. Our defensive record is dreadful. Most think he dropped the wrong centre-half. Was John Mousinho picked just because he is captain? Certainly Aaron Martin can feel unlucky to be left out.

For me full-backs should be selected with defending primarily in mind before thoughts turn to more offensive play. In the two full-back positions we have loanees. They have not shown that they are league one defenders. Ashley Smith-Brown looked particularly dodgy. We need solidarity. We have not got it.

I’ve not set out to specifically have a go at any individual. I will admit though to sadly be carrying some anger that I want to let out. Not sure who to blame though it has to be someone’s fault, doesn’t it?

Perhaps we should cut the youngsters and loanees some slack. Or join the “it’ll turn out alright” lot. So what do we do? Cut a lot of slack all the way to League Two? Bury our heads in the sand only to pull them out in August to a fixture list containing Cheltenham, Carlisle and Newport?

I’ve no idea what goes through the minds of players who have parent clubs elsewhere but who will care the most if we do get relegated? Loanees, players who think they can play at a higher level, those that think they’ll be here next season, the coaching staff, the owner or the fans?

I know how I feel. It is not pleasant. We had what seemed like decades of decline and horrible depressing football. We slowly turned it around then it became a bit special as we got promotion back to our present level with some memorable cups wins along the way. No upward path is guaranteed but we were only four points shy of a play-off place in 2016/17 and got some thoroughly spiffing entertainment along the way.

We look to be on the brink of tossing all this away. Pep poured the budget down the pan leaving us with a squad that looks incapable of doing more than perhaps putting on one good/acceptable performance in five or six.

Here we lost the midfield battle. Our passing was much more inaccurate than theirs. They were quicker and sharper than us. We never looked like winning this.

Up front we were nothing. As a striker Wes Thomas played in a way that gives his critics material to support their case. He didn’t get any service though. I didn’t note balls being slipped through to him. I didn’t note anyone getting past their markers, getting to the bye-line and pulling the ball back for him. What I will say is that he was excellent at winning headers when we were defending a few corners early on. But why doesn’t he do the same on the occasions we win a corner? Presumably the skill sets required for defensive and attacking duties at such set-pieces are entirely different.

Thomas was replaced with half an hour to go and Agon Mehmeti did cause the red back line a bit more of a problem but it was nothing that they could not cope with quite easily. As a threat, Isaac Buckley-Ricketts offered none. He was as likely to lose the ball as do anything else.

There was just so much wrong with our play that we were fortunate to have come away with just a two goal deficit.

Such is our fragility we only made it to the 7th minute before we went behind. We are shit from throw-ins, be it ours (where we invariably gift the ball away), or opponents, where we don’t defend properly. In this we had a lot of players clustered around the right back position. It was a yellow head that got on the ball. That would have been a good thing if the direction had been down the touch line or out for another throw. It was a bad thing because the header was across field into the danger zone. Dangerous to us not to the Millers. A Rotherham player picked it up in space and Anthony Forde to his left, also unmarked, received possession. Like a flock of sheep we’d all been dragged across towards the ball. That included ASB who never got closer than three yards before the shot was unleashed from just outside the area. Hit well it was, but straight through Simon Eastwood perhaps?

It looked like we could go two down at any time but we made it to just before the half hour mark before the inevitable.

The closest being Eastwood getting lucky when the ball came back to him off a post. There was nothing lucky though about his acrobatics that pushed it there in the first place. That he had to do that was down to more rank awful play by us. For some reason IBR was occupying the right-back position. I’ve questioned whether our actual full-backs are really full-backs and IBR definitely is not. He was beaten on the outside and in came the cross. Mousinho was then out-jumped or out-muscled. Whatever it was, it was an Oxford player that was outdone. No surprise there then.

For their second Joe Newell was able to run through the midfield. With Todd Kane being closer to the half way line than anywhere near a position on the pitch where he would be defensively useful, we were lacking a right-back. David Ball therefore had plenty of room when he received his namesake. Dickie had to go across. Fair play to Kane for now having got back. Not fair play for running straight past Newell instead of marking him. Ryan Ledson pointed, but neither he nor Kane got close, so Newell was able to gather unhindered. He then beat Kane before firing a shot at goal. Eastwood parried and Richard Towell finished. You don’t need to guess which team was the quicker to react. Depressing but not unexpected.

Just before the interval we pulled a goal back. For once it looked better and in the build-up I commented to my mate, “That’s more like it. We’re going forward with a bit of purpose”.

Dickie brought the ball out of defence and played it to Joe Rothwell. He moved the ball on first time (there’s the clue why this worked out better than a lot of stuff we attempt to do) to IBR. First time again it had reached Kane. He took it on a bit and James Henry who had cleverly spotted some space on the edge of the box was the next recipient. He took control, went between a few defenders and blasted home. It wasn’t just that which made him my man of the match.

Time then to gather our thoughts, have a tactical re-think, and come out with something extra kicking towards the 360 travellers which in the circumstances was pretty good numbers wise.

That didn’t happen. I never truly believed it would. The home side were the more likely to be the next team to find the net again.

It didn’t take long for them to do so. Dickie hacked a long ball away but as per the usual pattern it was a Rotherham player that picked the ball up. Forde progressed a long way then beat ASB as if he didn’t exist. Josh Ruffels was around too but that made no difference. Low and hard across came the ball. With our marking being about as effective as mudguards on a three-toed sloth we were two behind again. Michael Smith the scorer.

I’m beginning to think that even though it is not his preferred position we may be better off with Ruffels at full-back. At least that would allow a place for Alex Mowatt in the midfield. He’s another who I think can feel a touch unlucky not to have started. Apparently he thought so too. When we made our final change and he was not going to get on someone spotted him taking his shin pads off and walking down the tunnel. That was with sixteen minutes to go.

Ledson did fire off one decent long range shot but after it became 3-1 for most of the remaining minutes it was as it had been from the off, them looking more like adding to what they’d got than us bothering Marek Rodak in their goal.

These really are desperate times.

Plenty can see the problems but are we in a position to do anything about it.

Mrs FV relayed via text what Malcolm Shotton, Radio Oxford summariser for the evening, had said.

  • Centre-halves too far apart.
  • Wingers need to play wide.
  • We gave them too much space and looked slower than them.
  • Too many youngsters not up to League One standard.
  • So many changes the players are strangers to each other.
  • The defence in particular needs sorting.
  • Even a new manager would struggle with this team.
  • Just need to get enough points to stay out of danger.

Moaning from the very first whistle on Saturday won’t help though. We’ve got to get behind the boys (and men – come on someone step up, please) and make a difference even if that feels impossible at the Kassam unless in the most extreme of circumstances – massive cup tie, Swindon visiting etc. It won’t help though that Plymouth have sold out their 1,800 allocation and will be Brizzle like in the backing they give their team. They’re very much the opposite of us. Of the last thirteen they’ve won nine, drawn three and lost one. That defeat was to Wigan when the Latics were good. Even more worryingly, as if we had not got enough to worry about, in winning the last four they’ve scored ten and their victims include both Shrewsbury and Blackburn.

I’m feeling more desperate by the minute.

Hey, Blakey, does your bus go by the dark satanic mills?


Less enjoyable in here than in the Organ Grinder. Photo, Steve Daniels