Saturday sees Norwich host Paul Warne’s Rotherham side, who to an extent are defying expectations with their relatively solid start to the campaign. Jon Punt spoke to Millers fan Josh Yeardley to find out more…
Jon: Paul Warne could be accused of having divided loyalties on Saturday, given that he's from Norfolk and a big Norwich City fan. I can't imagine that to be the case though, and would think this is a match he'd love to win more than most.
I've been impressed with his Millers' tenure so far, he seems to extract a little bit more from his players, while also being an excellent human being - a tricky balance. I take it he's a bit of a cult hero in South Yorkshire? What do you think are his best qualities, his unlikely progression from fitness coach to gaffer was all a bit left field at the time?
Josh: Paul Warne, just like our assistant manager Richie Barker and goalkeeping coach Mike Pollitt, are all cult heroes at our football club after being part of a hugely successful Ronnie Moore side.
Warne, also known as Warniola by the Rotherham fans, spent 10 years as a player here over 2 spells and became the club’s fitness coach back in 2012 whilst Evans was here. When Warne became the caretaker boss in November 2016 after Kenny Jackett resigned, you could say he was given a free hit after only winning 4 games from December till May, funnily enough two of his wins came against Norwich and Ipswich.
Once the 2016/17 season was over that’s when we could properly judge Warne and apart from a rough patch in October and November of last season he’s done a fantastic job of rebuilding this football club on a shoestring budget, building a team of fighters and battlers. I’d say Warne’s best qualities are getting the very best out of average players and believing in them. For example striker Michael Smith was someone Bury fans couldn’t wait to get rid of him and they couldn’t believe he was our Kieffer Moore replacement, but Warne has rejuvenated him and he’s like a proper Rotherham striker.
Thanks for the reminder of that 2016/17 defeat. If memory serves you had a lad score on debut and the enigmatic Nelson Oliveira managed to get himself sent off. Halcyon days.
It was the beginning of the end for then manager Alex Neil that day, and we’re altogether a different prospect now.
The Millers seem to have had their fair share of Norwich City old boys on their books in recent years. Tom Adeyemi, Tony Andreu and Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe all graced your midfield. Which was your favourite and why?
Side question – is Vadis the only player to have played for Rotherham and scored against Real Madrid?
It took Tom Adeyemi a while to get fully fit but once he did he was probably one of our few shining lights of that dreadful season, although his career has gone downhill since then. Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe was only here for a few games but he was an incredibly talented player and I was gutted when he returned to Norwich, he had pace, skill and intelligence which is everything we lacked before and after he left. Tony Andreu was also a decent loan player as well but if my memory serves Neil Redfearn didn’t start him that muc,h which surprised me due to the lack of creativity we had at the time. I thought when he returned to Norwich that we’d miss him but then again if he stayed I doubt Redfearn’s replacement Neil Warnock would have used him that much.
Vadis is the only player to have played for us and also score against Real Madrid but he’s not the only former Miller to have played against the Spanish giants.
You can’t tease me like that, who were the other ones?
Turning to someone who I doubt will ever face off against the Galacticos, how was Sean Raggett doing for your lot before injury sidelined him? It seems like a strange buy for us, in that while he appears to be a decent defensive stopper he’s not technically that gifted with the ball.
Icelandic international Kari Arnason was the other former player who came up against the Spanish giants, as well as PSG, whilst he was at Swedish side Malmö.
Raggett is a proper old school centre back and reminds me a lot of Richard Wood, our Wembley hero. He’s a tough tackling player who’s prepared to put his body on the line to block anything. I can see why Warne brought him to the club given his height and strength.
Raggett is a great threat from set pieces which is something we are normally very strong at. Before his injury back at the beginning of September he looked like he was going to be ever present in our defence, putting in some great performances against Wigan in the cup, Millwall at home as well as against Everton. His only real error came against Leeds at Elland Road where Kemar Roofe outpaced him. Raggett may not be a decent passer of the ball but his strengths are definitely what we need if we are going to stay in this division and I’m hoping we can keep him beyond his loan spell.
I’d be surprised if he has a future at City to be honest, especially with how our team is developing at a rate of knots. Shall we say £2m now?
You mention the strengths required to stay in the division, being workmanlike will certainly go a long way towards that. Is there anymore to your style than that? I’m anticipating a physical side who are organised and not afraid to go long – is that a fair assessment?
I highly doubt we will be bidding/spending £2m on a player anytime soon, maybe £500 or £600k.
With the formations we use (4-1-4-1 or 4-4-1-1) we normally stay quite compact especially away from home. Every man knows their jobs, we try to make sure that there’s no space for the opposition to run into - forcing them to go long or to play it out wide which works to our advantage given the height in our back line. We do play quite direct at times given that we don’t have the technical players that most teams have in this division but many opposition defenders have struggled against the physicality of Michael Smith, a free agent from Bury reserves so your two centre backs will certainly know they’ve been in a game come 5pm on Saturday.
I’d say your assessment of our style is spot on - we do like to get the ball from back to front as quick as possible always aiming for Smith, hoping he’ll win the headers to either our wide men or central midfield players. As I stated previously our main strengths are crosses and set pieces so if we are to score, chances are it’s likely to be from one of those.
Where can City get at Rotherham then? We’re in a great run of form and have been free scoring (12 in 3 games) using quick passing in and around the opposition box to unlock teams. How have you fared against teams with similar styles?
The only team who have really exploited us with quick passing were Brentford. On the opening day they beat us 5-1, since then some teams have found it very difficult to break us down. Following the opening day mauling we’ve only conceded 20 goals and we’ve only conceded more than twice once in a game since then. Most of the 25 goals we have conceded have come through the middle when either we’ve started to tire, players have lost their men due to lapse in concentration or a team has capitalised on a mistake that we’ve made. If one of our centre backs or midfielders aren’t switched on for the full game we could be in a bit of trouble especially given the form that Norwich’s front 4 are in.
That’s interesting, we like to play through the middle, with our full-backs getting forward to offer natural width. We also tend to score late on when teams have started to tire. This all bodes well.
Your recent form at home looks like it’s been really good, with some good displays against in-form sides such as Sheffield United and QPR, yet you’re winless on the road. What’s been the difference in the away matches?
Our form has been decent but we struggle to score goals, we’re just not clinical enough which is why we draw so many games, which is good away from home but not great at home. Away from home we try and sit back and contain the opposition’s danger men and hope to hit teams on the counter attack.
Our away form really is poor 3 draws and 6 defeats, although those 3 draws have come in our last 3 away games. We’ve conceded 16 and scored 4. 3 of those 4 goals have come in our last 4 away games, so if we do manage to score I’ll be extremely surprised if it’s more than 1 goal. We concede quite a few goals in last 15-20 but we also score quite a few goals then so it could get quite interesting.
Ok – very specific prediction time then. I’m plumping for 3-1 Norwich, all goals coming in the final 25 minutes, with Pukki, Stiepermann and a returning Moritz Leitner bagging for City. You'll score from a goalkeeping error and we'll return to our penalty missing best with Leitner smashing the post from 12 yards. How’s about you?
I’d love to see us win a Championship away game for the first time since 9 April 2016 but I’ll very surprised, Norwich are in great form and have a goal scorer in Pukki. My head says 2-1 Norwich but my heart says 1-1. I know I’ll probably get hate from Rotherham fans if they read this preview but I’m going to have to say 2-1 Norwich, I can see our unbeaten run coming to an end here and I’m just hoping the teams below us all drop points. Pukki and Buendia to score for you guys and Smith to score for the Millers.