Rotherham are once again battling for their Championship lives as they visit the Brentford Community Stadium for a rearranged game on Tuesday night.
The Millers were originally due to face us on the first Saturday in March, but the game had to be called off because of a Covid outbreak among their squad – their second of the season.
As a result, Rotherham have been playing catch-up and their hopes of avoiding relegation have been kept alive because of their resulting games in hand.
However, they have not made the most of them and as things stand, they are in 22nd place, four points behind Derby, but with two games in hand. After Tuesday, their final three matches are at home to Blackburn on Saturday, away to Luton next Tuesday and then away to Cardiff on the final day of the season.
Their toughest week came in mid-April when they had to play four games in eight days – but only picked up four points. They started the sequence by drawing 0-0 at Huddersfield and then came from behind to beat QPR 3-1. However, the schedule then took its toll as they lost 1-0 to both relegation rivals Coventry and Birmingham.
The Millers have changed division in each of the past four seasons, with two relegations followed by instant promotions from League One.
They have been in and around the relegation zone for all of this season and a home defeat by Barnsley at the end of December saw them drop to 23rd place.
But a run of four wins and a draw in six games in January and early February turned the tide and took them up to 20th.
However, they then slumped to five straight defeats, which dropped them back into the bottom three, before they snatched a dramatic 2-1 win over Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough on Wednesday to stop the rot and also complete their first-ever double over the Owls.
But in their 10 games since then, they have only won twice, and have been beaten seven times, including in all of their last four matches.
There has been little distraction from the cup competitions this season, with Rotherham going out at the first hurdle in each one. They lost 4-2 on penalties after a 1-1 draw at Salford in the Carabao Cup, while in the FA Cup they took Everton to extra-time at Goodison Park, before losing 2-1.
Rotherham and Brentford are two of seven Championship clubs who have never played in the Premier League, with Bristol City, Luton, Millwall, Preston and Wycombe being the others.
Relegated from League One with us in 2006/07, they spent six seasons in the basement, before back-to-back promotions saw them promoted to the Championship with us, although in their case via the play-offs, in 2014.
They just avoided relegation in each of the next two seasons – finishing 21st each time – before starting on their four years of swapping between the second and third tiers.
WHO’S IN CHARGE
Former Rotherham midfielder Paul Warne is the second longest-serving manager in the Championship, behind Wycombe’s Gareth Ainsworth, and the ninth longest-serving in all four divisions.
He took temporary charge of the Millers when Kenny Jackett left in November 2016 and was given the job until the end of the season the following January.
Although he could not keep the Millers in the Championship, he was appointed as full-time manager in early April, as soon as the Millers had been relegated, on a one-year rolling contract.
And he rewarded the faith shown in him by chairman Tony Stewart by leading Rotherham to immediate promotion the following May – signing a new three-year contract soon afterwards.
Warne made nearly 300 appearances for the Millers over two spells at the club, also playing for Wigan, Oldham and Yeovil, and joined Rotherham’s coaching staff when he retired from playing in 2012.
A year later, he was given a testimonial to recognise his 10 years’ service to the club.
WE’VE MET BEFORE
Brentford have met Rotherham nine times in the Championship since we won promotion together in 2014.
We hold the upper hand with seven wins and only two defeats, while we we still await the first draw.
Past meetings in the Championship (Bees scores first):
2014/15 – (H) 1-0 (A) 2-0
2015/16 – (H) 2-1 (A) 1-2
2016/17 – (H) 4-2 (A) 0-1
2018/19 – (H) 5-1 (A) 4-2
2020/21 – (A) 2-0
The two games in the 2018/19 season each featured six goals, as the Bees did the double over the Millers, and each was played in very contrasting circumstances.
The home match against the newly-promoted Millers kicked off what was thought to be potentially our last full season at Griffin Park in superb style as we earned a crushing 5-1 victory.
Neal Maupay and Sergi Canos put us 2-0 up at half-time, before Ollie Watkins and Maupay again both scored after the interval to end the game as a contest. Lewis MacLeod hit a late fifth for Dean Smith’s Bees, before Will Vaulks grabbed a consolation.
The result meant Brentford topped the Championship table after the opening day – the last time we would reach those lofty heights until last month’s win at Reading.
By the time of the return game in mid-January, Dean Smith had moved on to Aston Villa and Thomas Frank has taken over as the Bees’ new head coach. His side was just coming out an awful run of form and had started to climb the table, and finally got their first Championship away success of the season at the New York Stadium, as we ran out 4-2 winners in the “Jaffa Cake” away kit.
Kamo Mokotjo put us ahead in only the second minute, but Jon Taylor equalised for Rotherham midway through the first half. Said Benrahma restored our lead early in the second half, but an Ezri Konsa own goal levelled things up again in the 73rd minute.
However, two minutes later, Mokotjo restored Brentford’s lead, and Neal Maupay hit a late fourth.
This season’s first game, at the start of December, resulted in a 2-0 win for the Bees, thanks to second half goals for Marcus Forss and Ivan Toney, from the penalty spot.
For the third time this season BBC Radio Sheffield’s reporter and commentator Adam Oxley, analyses South Yorkshire opponents for us. He assesses Rotherham’s season, the job Paul Warne has done at the club and the fortunes of the Millers’ two ex-Bees – Florian Jozefzoon and Chiedozie Ogbene.
Q – Rotherham seemed to be getting out of trouble, but what has gone wrong in recent games?
A – Right now it feels like the world is against Rotherham. Fine margins, key injuries, Covid-19, postponed games, not taking chances… there are an abundance of reasons why the Millers find themselves staring at another season in League One. Add to that a series of big decisions that have gone against the Millers in recent games and despite having survival in their own hands, it feels a tall order to avoid relegation with three out of their four remaining games on the road, starting with the play-off bound Bees.
Matt Crooks’ red card against Middlesbrough was tough enough to take when it appeared a clash of heads, but Barnsley’s goal at the weekend being allowed to stand had everyone mystified – Rotherham and Barnsley folk alike – after Carlton Morris barged into Millers goalkeeper Viktor Johansson to score, leaving the Swedish stopper unable to continue with a significant black eye.
Q – How confident are you that the Millers can beat the drop this time around?
A – I still retain hope that Rotherham can survive but a run of four-straight defeats, all by a single goal, and most with some controversy, have left everyone at the New York Stadium feeling dismayed and bruised.
Derby’s wretched run gives both the Millers and Owls hope, especially with the Rams hosting Sheffield Wednesday on the final day. Rotherham are making chances and giving it their all, so with the top six all set, and plenty of teams with little to play for, hopefully their extra need and big heart can finally make their luck turn.
Q – How did Rotherham cope with the week where they played four games – mass team changes or the same line-up and tactics?
A – They coped to a degree but like any team would do, found the week increasingly difficult. Four points from the first two games meant the week started well but by the time they faced Coventry on the Thursday, the quick turnaround really took its toll. Paul Warne did make changes game-by-game, to keep things fresh, and used his bench to varying degrees, while sticking to the 3-5-2 or 3-5-1-1 formations that have been used for most of the season
Q – What sort of season were Rotherham expecting this time around – another season of struggle or something more positive?
A – Any realistic Millers fan would have taken fourth from bottom before the season started, given the quality and additional financial clout of the majority of teams in the Championship. Rotherham have been relegated twice and promoted twice in the last four seasons under Paul Warne.
Many will have hoped that Warne had learnt from these experiences to put the club in a better position to survive, and despite the Millers still being in the bottom three, it feels like they’ve been more competitive throughout – 18 defeats by a single goal shows how much the team has been in games – and six away wins is a marked improvement on the club’s previous two Championship campaigns… it’s the 14 home defeats that have really stung this time.
Q – Paul Warne has been at the club a long time and sounds like a manager who does things differently to most others. How good a job has he done?
A – Paul Warne has done an excellent job and commands the backing of the majority of Millers fans. Clearly, as with most clubs, some fans only see the results and the league table, and have called for a change when times have got tough this season, but most recognise the financial constraints under which Rotherham operate, as well as the way Warne conducts himself.
He’s a people person, creating a real family feel within his squad; he talks differently to most other managers with bags of character, humility and humour; he’s got the club at heart having made over 250 appearances as a player, and he’s not afraid to make mistakes, admit them and learn on the job. You won’t find many people with a bad word to say about Paul Warne, and many would love to see him keep the Millers up this season.
Q – Florian Jozefzoon and Chiedozie Ogbene are well known to Brentford fans – how have the pair done?
A – Chiedozie Ogbene has been one of a number of key first team players who have missed large parts of the season, something which really hasn’t helped a Rotherham side who were already up against it in the Championship. Ogbene has been missed as he’s a player who can do something different, make something happen, and offers genuine width on the pitch. He’s made four appearances since returning from injury earlier this month, and he had some big chances against Barnsley on Saturday, which sadly he failed to take.
When Ogbene and Kieran Sadlier were both injured towards the start of the season, it was one of the reasons why Rotherham moved away from wingers to wing-backs with three in defence, a formation which has largely worked well for the Millers with the players available.
As for Florian Josefzoon, the switch to a 3-5-2 has left him out of position and he’s found game time hard to come by, making only eight league starts. We’ve not seen the best from Josefzoon, but he’s a player who clearly has some ability and could yet provide some important moments as the Millers seek to avoid the drop.
Q – What do you remember about previous meetings between the sides?
A – I covered Brentford’s 2-0 win at the New York Stadium earlier this season, which, as with so many games, saw Rotherham battle hard but lose to a better team.
The fixture that stands out in my memory though is the opening game of the 2018/19 season when the Millers lost 5-1 to the Bees at Griffin Park. I remember travelling to the capital with much enthusiasm, the euphoria of winning the League One play-off final still fresh in everyone’s minds, but the emphatic nature of Brentford’s victory quickly brought all connected with Rotherham back down to earth.
I remember interviewing Paul Warne and Will Vaulks after the game and seeing the reality of the challenge they faced in the Championship etched on their faces and evident in their words. Thankfully, the team responded next game with a win, gave it a real go that season, and took it to the penultimate game at West Brom before being relegated just four points from safety.
Q – Which Rotherham players should Bees fans watch out for?
A – Michael Ihiekwe is a player who has been really consistent at the back, starting 38 out of the Millers 42 league games so far. Lewis Wing has made a positive impact in midfield since joining on loan from Middlesbrough in January, a player who looks comfortable on the ball and has an eye for a pass. The combination of forward Michael Smith and attacking midfielder Matt Crooks has proved fruitful, two players still with the club from the relegation season two years ago, but Crooks is suspended this week after his controversial red card against Middlesbrough. Freddie Ladapo has been in and out of the team throughout the campaign but he’s come up with some big goals and has the element of the unexpected about him.
Q – Finally can you give me a possible Rotherham line-up and formation please?
A – Viktor Johansson has been excellent in goal since taking the gloves from Jamal Blackman but the Swede is a doubt with the head injury sustained in Barnsley’s early goal at the weekend. Matt Crooks serves the second of his three-match ban. Otherwise, all of Rotherham’s longer-term absentees have returned so Warne finally has options at this late stage of the season.
A potential line up is 3-5-2…
CD: Ihiekwe, Wood, MacDonald (A)
CM: Wing, Lindsay, Wiles
F: Smith, Ladapo
HOW TO FOLLOW THE GAME
The match is being played at the Brentford Community Stadium at 7.00pm on Tuesday, behind closed doors. The match is live on Sky Sports. Season ticket holders who froze their tickets have free access to watch the match on iFollow, and others can buy a match pass for £10.
Live audio commentary is also available on iFollow with Mark Burridge, Karleigh Osborne and Natalie Sawyer with a match pass available to buy for £2.50, and there is also live commentary on BBC London Digital.