Matthew Crichton: Despite being relegated from the Championship twice under Paul Warne, Rotherham have stuck with him since 2016. What factors are behind him staying as manager of the club for so long?
Will Daniels: When Paul Warne reluctantly took the reigns in 2016, he inherited a team in total disarray. Simply put, a lot of the squad didn’t want to be at the club and it showed with their performances, not only on the pitch but also off it.
The players in question were also crippling us financially, and so Warney had to oversee a complete culture change at the New York. Warne was recognised by chairman Tony Stewart as possessing leadership qualities. From the start, he didn’t want the job and admitted to making himself physically unwell within his first season as boss.
Getting rid of the deadwood that summer was key to success, and beginning to instill his DNA into the club. Having played for the club over two spells, Warney was already a cult hero amongst the Millers faithful.
He’s built a club that represents who he was as a player. A grafter, who always gave 110%. Fitness freaks, a team that would pit itself amongst many in the EFL distance covered charts. From the start, he said he wanted to “leave the club in a better place than he inherited it”.
He surrounds himself with “good human beings”. His coaching staff have been a huge reason for the club’s success. He recruited his best mate, Richie Barker, from Charlton, and Rotherham-born Matt Hamshaw joined the first team coaching staff having worked in the academy.
Along with goalkeeping coach Andy Warrington, he surrounded himself with players that understood what Rotherham United should mean - to the players, to the staff, and to the supporters.
He recruits players of a similar ilk. Players that want to be their best versions, that are willing to buy into the club’s DNA, and not just take a wage home. It has to mean more to be a Rotherham United player. Players come to the New York Stadium and leave as better players: Will Vaulks, Semi Ajayi, Keiffer Moore amongst many names.
There’s been disappointment when we haven’t managed to stay up, admittedly. But the sheer difference in finances at Championship level demonstrates what an incredible job Paul did to keep Rotherham competitive and in with a chance.
Without a couple of dodgy decisions, and a COVID affected schedule that no other team has ever faced, the Millers would be playing Championship football.
In summary, Rotherham have stuck with Paul Warne because he deserves our support. There isn’t another manager in the EFL that could have had the success he has, with the resources he has had. I’m proud to call him our gaffer.
MC: Rotherham are fifth in League One, unbeaten in eight league matches and have already won promotion twice under Warne - are you confident the team can achieve a third promotion this year?
WD: The early signs are strong! Underlying data suggests that Rotherham have probably been the best performing team in League One so far. There’s a long way to go, of course, but this team is just getting better and better.
Tomorrow will be a great benchmark of where our team is at. If Rotherham have been the best side so far, Sunderland aren’t far behind and I fully believe that if we’re able to finish above you lot, we’ll be promoted to the Championship.
MC: The Millers currently have the best defence in League One, conceding just 10 goals. What makes your back line so solid?
WD: Simply put, we don’t really concede chances!
We’ve got a really solid back three, and a real mix in there.
Richard Wood, at 36, is still playing like he’s ten years younger and he’s been able to mentor young Huddersfield loanee, Ramarni Edmonds-Green. Edmonds-Green looks an unbelievable acquisition, quick, strong, and reads the game well.
Alongside those two, you’re likely to see Michael Ihiekwe join them. He reads the game really well, and will be a huge threat from set-pieces.
MC: Rotherham signed Will Grigg on loan from Sunderland in the summer, how has he performed so far and is he someone you’d like to keep permanently?
WD: All in all, Grigg has been a breath of fresh air. I would imagine living away from home, a hefty fee on transfer deadline day and playing for a huge team with so much expectation (rightly so!) probably weighed too heavy on Will.
At the start of the season, we were creating a lot of chances after dominating games, but not putting them away. Grigg has come through the door and hasn’t put a foot wrong. He has four goals so far this term, with a combined distance between them of about ten yards from goal.
His movement is excellent, and he’s one of the more intelligent players I’ve seen at Rotherham. His off-the-ball work is more pleasing for me, providing an excellent example to young striker Josh Kayode as well as pushing Freddie Ladapo to bring his A game.
He’s playing like a guy that is free, enjoying his football. Will Grigg may well be one of our most important signings this season.
MC: Fellow striker Michael Smith is League One’s joint top scorer with 10 goals this season - are you expecting him to try and bully Sunderland’s inexperienced back four?
WD: Michael Smith is a huge Newcastle fan, and so tomorrow’s game holds extra significance for him you’d assume. Assistant manager Richie Barker has offered to give him his most prized possession, a signed Alan Shearer shirt, if the big man can get to 25 this season. Challenge accepted.
“Smudge” is just horrible to play against. He’s been labeled as a battering ram in the past, and I personally think that’s a bit harsh. He runs the channels selflessly to bring his team mates into play, but this season he’s also added a lot more goals to the campaign. He’s got great feet for a guy of his size.
He’s a real poster boy of this Rotherham team. He will press the Sunderland defence high, prowling for a mistake, ably followed by his blood-hungry teammates. It will be a real test of their mettle.
MC: Aside from the above-mentioned players, who do you think will cause Sunderland problems today?
WD: Another Newcastle fan, actually! Dan Barlaser came through the Toon academy and will be keen to get one over on you tomorrow. He currently sits top of the assists chart with six so far.
Nicknamed the “Geordie Pirlo” by the fan base, Dan’s vision for this level is just unheard of, looking long towards Smith, or to the pace on the wings. His delivery from set pieces has been a key area of success for the Millers this season.
Chiedozie Ogbene will torment the Sunderland left hand side tomorrow afternoon. With frightening pace and power, Ogbene is Rotherham’s premier ball carrier, creating an average 14 chances for the Millers per 100 passes. No doubt there will be interest in January for his services.
Finally, I’d like to highlight Ollie Rathbone. After Matt Crooks left for Middlesborough in the summer, a few worried how we would replace the big man. Ollie Rathbone was fetched in from Rochdale, a box-to-box midfielder who will cover every inch of the New York turf tomorrow.
He’s everything you’d want from a Rotherham player, tenacious, a Duracell bunny, and harries the opposition to within an inch of their life.
MC: What style of play can Lee Johnson’s team expect to encounter from Warne’s side?
WD: We’re well known for being one of the most direct sides in the league, but I think there’s more to this Rotherham side than just lumping a ball up top.
With the pace of Ogbene and trickery of Northern Ireland international Shane Ferguson (also ex Toon), you can expect plenty of crosses into the box, as well as the midfield three driving forwards through Ben Wiles.
Out of possession, you can expect to not have a minute on the ball. The Millers will press high, relentlessly, and shut down the passing channels.
MC: Which eleven players do you think Warne will select?
WD: GK: Vickers, CB: Edmonds-Green, CB: Wood, CB: Ihiekwe, LWB: Ferguson, RWB: Ogbene, CM: Barlaser, CM: Wiles, CM: Rathbone, ST: Smith, ST: Ladapo.
MC: The two sides drew 1-1 during their last competitive meeting, what is your honest prediction for the final score?
WD: Two teams that are renowned for scoring goals, Sunderland will probably represent our toughest challenge so far.
The game will be won and lost by how well the respective defences deal with “The Loch Ness Drogba” and “Smudge”.
I fancy us to win this one 3-1. I don’t think you’ll like our press, and looking at Sunderland’s set piece numbers, I can see the Millers getting some success here.