Rotherham (H) Preview / Phoenix2021 Out

Let me be the first to say, thank god this is over! After a horrendous season on and off the pitch we draw the curtain on the 2022/23 season with a home game against Rotherham United, an ironic twist of fate considering they were the team who finished one place behind us in last seasons title winning campaign…

The ineptitude of our owners has reared its ugly head once again this week as they’ve failed to pay our players wages on time for a sixth time this season. I’m fed up with it so I can only imagine how fed up the players are, especially considering there had been concrete promises made that this wouldn’t happen again. All trust is gone and they ought to know that.

Now I’ll be talking about the off the field issues in more depth later on but it’s worth remembering there are two teams playing in this game, and I’m happy to see Rotherham United secure their safety in the division. The pair of us have been embroiled in relegation and promotion battles season in season out for the best part of a decade and I’m glad they’ve been able to survive whilst operating in a sensible manner. Our board should take note.

Latics Team News

It is very difficult to know what kind of team we’ll see line up tomorrow afternoon. Given the late wages fiasco there are suggestions that a large group, if not all of the first team players will go on strike and refuse to play this game and who can blame them? The fact they’ve played 45 games already this season despite being messed around by our owners is commendable as it is.

Another potential scenario is that the players contracted beyond this season will play as they’ve been paid, albeit late. However, players out of contract in the summer may well decide against playing and risking injury that may jeopardise a potential move away from the club in the transfer window. Again, whatever decision is made by the players I’ll fully support.

Assuming that second scenario is the one that plays out we may well see a league debut for young goalkeeper Sam Tickle. Both goalkeepers Ben Amos and Jamie Jones will likely leave the club when their contracts expire so giving the promising 20 stopper a chance to impress makes a lot of sense. I would’ve wanted it to happen regardless of the off the off field issues.

It’ll be a shame to see loanee Omar Rekik depart as he’s someone I’ve been impressed by. I hope he gets the chance to play so we can give him a good reception, and the same goes for Christ Tiehi further up the pitch. Ryan Nyambe is someone I expect to leave in the summer so he might not play, whilst Jack Whatmough and Charlie Hughes are both thankfully contracted beyond this summer and have been paid.

The fact the last part of that sentence is something I’ve had to write makes me feel a bit sick to be honest…

Tendayi Darikwa and James McClean are out of contract in June so my assumption is they’ve not been paid. It would be such a shame if we didn’t get the opportunity to wish them well in person as they’ve both played a big part in getting the club to where it should’ve stayed, and the fact we are going down isn’t down to them. I hope they play but we can’t be sure.

Tom Naylor is contracted beyond this summer and he posted a team photo on his twitter account which suggests there’s still unity. He may play for that reason but Max Power and Christ Tiehi may not choose to make themselves available which as I’ve said is fair enough. There are several promising young CMs at the club though and I’d like to see Baba Adeeko get a go.

In attacking areas there’s a few more options which is nice. Callum Lang and Thelo Aasgaard have formed a nice partnership whilst Will Keane is back in the goals and Charlie Wyke is back on the pitch. With youngsters like Chris Sze, Luke Brennan and Abdi Sharif all highly rated they may get a spot on the bench too which would be nice. Again, we have literally no idea what to expect.

An Opposition View

As always I’ve called in the help of some folks far more knowledgeable about Rotherham United than myself to contribute to this section of the preview!

1) First things first, congratulations! For the first time in a long time Rotherham will be playing their football in the Championship for a second consecutive season having secured your survival, can you just sum up what this season has been like for the Millers?

‘Thanks! As ever supporting Rotherham it’s been a rollercoaster. We started the season well before the disruption of losing our entire managerial team 9 games in. We looked dead and buried around December time but a few January additions and a change in formation helped to rejuvenate us, and despite a ridiculous injury list we secured a few key wins to get us over the line. It’s been a transitional season, so in that respect we’ve done well to stay out of the bottom three for the entirety of it.’ [@The_RUFC]

‘It’s nice to finally stay up, and with a game to spare as well. The “yo-yo” has been broken and you won’t find a Rotherham fan who is not over the moon. It’s hasn’t been easy, had all the ups and downs you’d expect but after the turn of the year it became clear we did have enough to stay up. As with most teams in this league the problem was consistency, had we found it we’d have been even more comfortable but it sets a good platform for next September.’ [@rufc_pod]

2) Matt Taylor took over shortly after the reverse fixture at your place so Latics fans might not know what his teams play like. Is it similar to how you set up under Paul Warne or have their been some significant changes?

‘There certainly has been a change of style. Under Warne we had a very high-intensity 3-5-2, lots of pressing, lots of crosses into the box. ‘Handsome’ Matt Taylor prefers a more measured approach, and whilst we are still probably one of the more direct sides at this level with Jordan Hugill leading the line, there’s more focus on keeping the ball when we get it. Taylor also changed to a 4-5-1 (or 4-4-1-1) in January which appears to be his preferred formation, although injury problems have meant we’ve deployed a 3-5-2 in a few games of late.’ [@The_RUFC]

‘Matt Taylor is much flexible in terms of set up and selection. He doesn’t seem to have any favourites and is happy to switch up formation which Paul Warne didn’t really do. This change has not always worked but I put this down to Matt Taylor not having his own players yet. Matt Taylor is happy to mix things up, not always direct but can do so if needs be.’ [@rufc_pod]

3) Despite this season’s success you’ll still be one of the teams fancied for the drop next season. Are you confident that the current set up will ensure you can stabilise as a Championship club for years to come?

‘Our wage budget is comfortably the lowest in the Championship so inevitably we’ll be favourites to go down next season, especially with the strength of the sides coming up from League One. On the positive side we’ve got a sprinkling of good young players in the squad and I always trust our recruitment team who continue to unearth gems year after year. We can also take inspiration from the likes of Luton and Coventry who have pushed on at this level. On the other hand, we’re likely to lose star man Chieo Ogbene in the summer and while ever we’re trying to operate on a sensible budget it feels like a miracle just to be able to compete at this level, where most clubs are content to lose tens of millions of pounds every year chasing the Premier League dream.’ [@The_RUFC]

‘Simple answer if I don’t know. The Championship next season will be more competitive than this season. The teams coming up should fairly strong and the teams coming down will be great as well. I have trust in Matt Taylor that he will recruit well in the summer like he did in January. If we can add a few bits of quality we should be ok to stay up again, but again who knows with this league.’ [@rufc_pod]

4) Injuries have been a real problem for you this season with several key players missing a lot of games. In terms of those left, who would you say are the dangermen in your squad?

‘You’re right, our injury list is particularly ludicrous at the moment. Standout players Ogbene, Rathbone and Wiles are ruled out, whilst Handsome Matt has suggested we’ll be seeing a few unfamiliar names on the teamsheet. Given the players have probably been on the beers since Monday I’m not sure there will be much danger, but Jordan Hugill is an important physical presence, whilst loanees Tariqe Fosu and Domingos Quina are good technicians and may enjoy playing with no pressure. In all honesty, Monday’s game is just a party for us, our seasons always go down to the wire – this is the first game since 2015 that we can enjoy having already achieved our season objective. Furthermore, whilst it hasn’t been officially announced, it is widely understood that Monday will be Richard Wood’s final game for us after 9 years at the club, so expect a few renditions of his famous ‘magic’ chant from the 4000+ away contingent.’ [@The_RUFC]

‘With injuries and who is left for this week, I don’t know what we will look like. We have one fit specialise centre half, two if we really need to push them. 2 of our best midfielders are unavailable and our biggest attacking threat Ogbene pulled his hamstring last week. We have been told by Matt Taylor that the bench will include names fans will not recognise. So simply, we have no idea what we could look like on Monday.’ [@rufc_pod]

Final Thoughts

I’m missing out the tactical talk section of my previews because quite frankly it doesn’t make a difference what system we play, there’s nothing to play for. And regardless, there are bigger things at stake here that need much more coverage than whether we should push our wingbacks higher or whatever.

The Phoenix 2021 Ltd group that currently own the club are clearly not fit for purpose. No employer who pays their staff late six times in twelve months is fit for purpose and I don’t care what promises have been made to people, patience and trust has run out. As supporters of the club, given what it has gone through since July 1st 2020, cannot stand by silently and allow it to continue.

It would appear that several pre match protests have been arranged which is good and hopefully large numbers attend those to make their point. I’m also aware that some are planning on protests during, and whilst they might be harder to organise you’d imagine they’d have more of an impact.

I’d encourage everybody to make their voices heard in whatever way they see fit, assuming it’s done in a way that won’t come back to bite them or the club in the future. We as a club cannot go on being owned by people who cannot grasp the basic thing that is paying their staff on time, especially as that is a reputation that will cause us immense problems when it comes to the summer transfer window and beyond.

In an ideal world the outstanding money will be paid and they will put us up for sale. Whether someone buys us is out of everyone’s hands but we can at least attempt to make our feelings known and force the club to be put up for sale. After all the damage that has been done this season that feels like the only solution.

We shouldn’t need a lot of money to run us, the only reason that is currently the case is because of the irresponsible spending this ownership group has allowed to happen. Considering there are supposed football finance experts on the board it makes this whole thing even more baffling. I’d suggest those titles might need changing after this mess is cleared up…

Phoenix 2021 will always be known as the saviour of Wigan Athletic and for that we can thank them. But we can’t allow them to be the owners that bury the club too…

Phoenix2021. Sell Up.

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