The international break is over, thankfully, and Latics are back in action looking to build on our positive start to the season. Saturday sees us travel to a fellow promoted side in Rotherham United who have also started well and it promises to be a very competitive game between two sides that know each other well.
Leam Richardson summed up the first 9 games as ‘Okay’ which is probably fair but I’d say there have been more positives than negatives to take from the opening couple of months. 3 wins, 4 draws and a couple of losses is pretty good going for a newly promoted side and our away form is the best in the division which isn’t bad either!
The Millers have begun the campaign well too but its been a whirlwind 10 days for the club. Long term manager Paul Warne has left to join League 1 Derby County and hasn’t been replaced at the time of writing. Cambridge boss Mark Bonner was heavily linked but he’s staying put so it looks like club captain Richard Wood will take temporary charge on Saturday.
Latics Team News
3 Latics players were called up for international duty this week and thankfully all seem to have come back fit and healthy. James McClean earnt his 95th cap for the Republic of Ireland, Josh Magennis played twice and scored once for Northern Ireland and Curtis Tilt was part of the Jamaica squad that took on Argentina.
The two weeks off will hopefully have allowed our non-internationals time to recuperate and freshen up ahead of a busy schedule leading up to the World Cup. Personally I also hope we’ve used the time to develop our 4-2-3-1 tactical shape and focus on that being our main system for the rest of the season.
Ben Amos returned in goal in our last game against Reading but looked less than convincing and many have suggested he was at fault for their winning goal. Jamie Jones has looked solid in most of the games he’s played but I wonder if the 5 goals he conceded against Burnley are the reason Leam isn’t giving him a run in the side. I expect Amos to start again unless he’s injured again.
Ryan Nyambe missed the Reading game too and we really missed that defensive solidity last time out. It transpired that he wasn’t feeling confident enough in his fitness to last a full game but after the break I’d like to think that problem is solved now. I expect him to return to the starting 11 in place of Darikwa, who didn’t do anything wrong last time out in fairness.
Assuming Tilt is fine after his travels I imagine he’ll start alongside Jack Watmough at the back. James McClean seems to be our first choice left back now which is interesting and he’s done a stellar job there. However, we’ve been linked to Danny Rose recently and you’d imagine if he was to join he’d take Macca’s place in that spot.
Graeme Shinniesta has been wonderful this season and looks likely to win the clubs player of the month award. His partner will probably be Max Power who’s captained the side this season in the absence of Darikwa, but we’re yet to see the very best of the 28 year old. His set piece delivery hasn’t quite been up to the levels of last seasons and hopefully that changes soon.
The front 4 needs some change. I really really hope that Will Keane comes good in the Championship because he deserves it more than anyone, but his performances this season have been well below par. Yes he’s our top scorer but hasn’t scored from open play and isn’t affecting games in the way he should be. I think this is last chance saloon for Keane, if he doesn’t perform to a high level tomorrow I think he needs dropping. I’d drop him now but Leam probably won’t.
Callum Lang also needs to find his feet sooner rather than later. He’s looked dangerous at times but his end product has left a lot to be desired and with talent waiting on the bench to take his place he better start taking his chances! Everyone has high hopes for him and I have no doubt he’ll show his class, but I wonder if he might be better off impacting games from the bench for a little while…
Josh Magennis scored a last minute winner on the international stage and we’ll be hoping he carries that form into Saturday’s game. He’s been better than most people would’ve expected this season and will play a key role against a powerful Rotherham back line. He did a brilliant job of it last time we played the Millers, fingers crossed tomorrow is no different!
An Opposition View
To give an insight into where our opponents are at leading into Saturday’s fixture I’ve called in the help of someone far more knowledgeable on The Millers than myself!
1) Rotherham have started the season better than many would’ve expected and currently sit in 8th place. What’ve you made of your season so far?
As you say it’s been a surprisingly good start, and whilst delighted I’d dampen expectations by suggesting we’ve been somewhat fortunate on occasions, particularly in the draws we’ve picked up on the road. We’ve been unusually efficient in front of goal, opposition strikers and keepers have been very forgiving, whilst our own keeper, Viktor Johansson, has been performing miracles between the sticks. Still, we’ve been good value for most of our wins, and at home we look strong. [@The_RUFC]
The season has been a great so far, up until the change of manager. The transfer window had been very good and brought in plenty of experience. Our defence has been particularly impressive. We are aware 8th isn’t our normal position and might not last but hopefully the pints we have on the board will help going forward. [@rufc_pod]
2) Paul Warne recently left the club after a wonderful 6 years in charge. I’d imagine Millers fans are sad to see him go, so can you sum up the mood amongst your supporters following his departure?
There was certainly a shock amongst our fans when we found out he was choosing to drop to League One. Having played for us in two separate spells and then worked his way up the backroom staff to manager, with numerous promotions along the way, Warne is certainly synonymous with Rotherham United, and it’s strange to see him in another clubs’ colours. The majority of fans appreciate what Warne did for the club and thought he got the best out of his squad on a smaller budget than our competitors. Having said that, we’re in a good position on and off the pitch, and I think there’s an optimism amongst fans that we can appoint an exciting replacement and hopefully achieve what still remains the objective – staying in the Championship, and building from there. [@The_RUFC]
Losing Paul Warne has been a huge blow, he was such an important manager for the club. It came out of the blue as our start was so good, I think we understand Derby is a big opportunity for him. Replacement him has already shown to be difficult, the next appointment is a huge one for us if we are to try and secure our place in the championship. [@rufc_pod]
3) We had two great games with you last season and you ran us close in the title race. Have you changed much this year or can Latics fans expect a similar style of game on Saturday afternoon?
Given the departure of Warne and his back room staff I’m not sure what any of us expect, although given we haven’t hired a new manager yet I’d expect us to play the same style we’ve played so far this campaign. Comparing it to last season, the high-pressing 3-5-2 formation remains, although without a target man up front and with a couple of ball-playing additions at the back, we’ve been seeing a more patient approach going forward. Saying that, like last season set-pieces remain our likeliest route to goal, with the evergreen Richard Wood causing chaos in the opposition box. [@The_RUFC]
Simply put no. Michael Smith was key to our system last year and allowed us to go direct if we need to. From an attacking point of view this season we have relied on pace, Ogbene and Washington are quick and will run all day long. Our midfield is still the same but our pace allows them to distribute the play. Our defence has improved although it was pretty good last year. With the change of manager its difficult to give an exact idea of how we will play but I wouldn’t expect change from our opening 9 games. [@rufc_pod]
4) Finally, who do you think our supporters should be worried of come kick off? Who’s impressed for your side this season?
Aside from the aforementioned Richard Wood and his goal scoring exploits from centre back, our two stand-out performers are Cheio Ogbene and Dan Barlaser. Ireland international Ogbene spent most of last season playing right-wing back, whereas this season he’s been operating as a striker, and his pace and direct running certainly gets the crowd on their feet. Barlaser meanwhile is the central midfielder who dictates our play; he’s the one getting the ball off the defence and making us tick. Wing-backs Cohen Bramall and Arsenal loanee Brooke Norton-Cuffy are also lightning quick and give us a threat in wide positions. [@The_RUFC]
Dan Barlaser in midfield has been superb. His reading of the game and passing range have been key to several goals. If he is given space he can run the show. Chieo Ogbene is another who has taken to the championship very well. Moving as a striker now the goals have come quickly and with his pace can cause a lot of problems. [@rufc_pod]
As our resident Millers fans have said there its a somewhat new look Rotherham United this season and they’ll cause us lots of different challenges. For many people when you think of Rotherham you think a big side, set piece dependant and incredibly hard working, and whilst that’s all somewhat true they’ve become more versatile this season.
The stats suggest that The Millers are still being very direct on the whole. They average 45.82 long passes per game which makes up 23% of their total passes, and they also average the lowest possession per 90 with 42.3%. Whilst there isn’t a target man in their system anymore they still look to get the ball in behind teams for their 2 pacey strikers to get on the end of. As previously mentioned though, they are looking to build more patiently at times too.
Interestingly enough Rotherham have come up against sides playing a 4 at the back system only once this season. QPR was the team in question and they dominated large parts of the game and would’ve won had it not been for one of the Millers’ classic set piece goals. In that game they looked really stretched defensively at times and created very little from open play. Compare that to how well they’ve done against 5 at the back systems, I think its clear how we should set up.
If we do play a 4-2-3-1 the midfield battle will be vital. We’ll be outnumbered 2 to 3 in there and our pair will need the help of our number 10 to drop in occasionally and occupy the spare man, probably Dan Barlaser who’s their metronomic playmaker. Our wide forwards will then have to decide whether to pick up their wing backs or wide centre backs, but mustn’t be caught in between as they can bypass us quickly if our press is wrong.
I hope we play slightly less direct tomorrow too as I’m concerned Josh Magennis will be left completely isolated against 3 dominant CBs. Playing through the lines, getting the ball into wide areas and keeping the ball in their half for sustained periods is our best bet in my opinion. Its easier said than done of course and Rotherham will hunt in packs with their aggressive press, but if we can play through that we’ll have a really good chance.
Players like Thelo will be key in that regard. His tricky dribbling ability and passing range are the kind of attributes that Rotherham’s defenders don’t want to come up against. Ilias Chair was wonderful for QPR against them and he possesses very similar attributes to Thelo, so that bodes well for our Norwegian wonderkid being able to impact the game positively.
We can’t afford to give away stupid free kicks and corners tomorrow, in fact I’d go as far to say that’s equally as important as being fluid going forward. They’ve scored a whooping 42% of their goals from set pieces (5/12) and are genuinely one of the most effective teams in the world from dead ball situations. We’ve not been too bad at defending them this season and we’re aided by the height in our side, but Rotherham are a different beast and we’ll have to be very resolute tomorrow.
It’ll be a very interesting tactical battle at the AESSEAL New York Stadium and for once Leam will be the more experienced manager on the touchline! He’s masterminded many expert away performances in his time in charge and I’m sure he’s been developing a plan over the past few weeks. From what we’ve seen of Latics this season we’ll be direct, hard working and rely on special moments to create chances. I’m not sure how long we can rely on that method but whilst its working I’m not going to complain!
I’m really unsure what to think going into this game to be honest! Our performance against Reading was pretty grim to say the least but we’ve looked a completely different side away from home so its difficult to know how much attention to pay to that loss. A packed out away end awaits the players and the supporters could play a big role in getting us over the line.
Rotherham’s home end is set to be filled too which makes for an exciting game. They’re somewhat of an unknown quantity now Paul Warne is gone and it’ll be interesting to see how the players react without their long time leader there with them. They’re a solid group though and I can’t see something like this impacting them too much.
Games between these two sides are always close run things and I’m pretty sure tomorrow will be no different. Rotherham’s excellent home form vs our wonderful away form; something’s got to give! Fingers crossed its the former not the latter though…