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Hull City v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship - MKM Stadium

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Fan Focus: “I rate Jack Clarke as the best player in the Championship” says Rotherham fan!

Ahead of tonight’s match, we spoke to Rotherham fan @the_RUFC, to discuss their recent appointment of Leam Richardson, their hopes of survival, and who we should be wary of!

Photo by Ian Hodgson/PA Images via Getty Images

I guess we have to start with the departure of Matt Taylor in November. Do you think that was for the best, given your poor start?

It was a decision that split the fanbase, to be honest.

On the one hand, our points-per-game average under Taylor was pointing towards relegation and his gamble of signing experienced but injury-prone players hadn’t paid off. Also, the away performances in particular were dreadful.

On the other hand, he kept us in the Championship last season, our home performances were generally good, and the combination of injuries to key players and outrageous refereeing decisions cost him.

We were 22nd in the league when Taylor was sacked, but with the twenty fourth biggest budget in the Championship, so I personally think he was hard done by.

The man to replace him was ex-Wigan manager Leam Richardson. How did this appointment go down with supporters?

Given that it took four weeks, by the time Richardson was appointed I think the fanbase were just relieved that we’d got a permanent manager in.

When Taylor was sacked, we were linked with the likes of Nathan Jones, Chris Wilder and Gary Rowett, but I think fans were brought back down to Earth and the reality of our appeal became clear as numerous experienced Championship managers turned us down.

The appointment of Richardson was probably seen as underwhelming yet sensible, particularly given his recent experience of winning League One.

Rotherham United v West Bromwich Albion - Sky Bet Championship - AESSEAL New York Stadium
Leam Richardson took over from Paul Cook at Wigan, helping them to avoid relegation and then winning League One the following year.
Photo by Nigel French/PA Images via Getty Images

Having won his first game on Saturday, do you think Richardson can guide you to safety or do you think the current nine-point gap is too much to overcome?

If Richardson can keep us up from this position, I personally think it’d be a bigger miracle than our famous ‘Great Escape’ under Neil Warnock in 2016.

A look at the underlying numbers suggests we’re currently the worst team in the league, struggling to create goalscoring opportunities while simultaneously unable to prevent the opposition from creating chances at will.

Our relegation rivals have more financial clout than us so the January transfer window probably won’t help our standing.

The best we can hope for is that our injury crisis clears up and Richardson can get a tune out of this squad, while hoping one of the teams currently outside the drop zone has a disastrous second half of the season.

Both sets of supporters will be excited for the transfer window opening next week. Do you think Rotherham will have the money to strengthen and in which positions do you need to add new players?

Rotherham are a club who cut our cloth accordingly, and you won’t see us overspending.

With that in mind, and given the perilous position we find ourselves in, I’d be surprised to see us splashing any cash and I’d expect us mainly to deal in the loan market.

I think the squad needs freshening up in the forward positions, with some pace and ball-carrying ability desperately required to take the heat off the defence. We really miss Chiedozie Ogbene, who’s now showing his quality in the top flight.

Leicester City v Rotherham United - Sky Bet Championship
Goalkeeper Viktor Johansson will be Rotherham player to watch on the night.
Photo by Stephen White - CameraSport via Getty Images

I always remember goalkeeper Viktor Johansson being excellent whenever I’ve watched him. Which Rotherham players do you think can cause Sunderland problems?

Viktor is our star man and prized asset, sweeping up at the club’s awards ceremony last season.

He’s since been recognised internationally with his first Sweden cap, and the likelihood is that he’s destined for bigger and better things.

Elsewhere, if we’re to cause Sunderland problems, it’s likely to be through Sam Nombe, our first ever million-pound signing, whose pace, power and mobility can cause opposition defences problems.

Struggling to get the service to him is our main downfall.

Despite not winning away all season, Rotherham have beaten Middlesbrough, Norwich and Coventry at home, and have drawn with Leeds and Ipswich. What makes your team a completely different side at home?

It’s a great question and one I’m sure the people at the club wish they knew the answer to.

One key difference is the pitch dimensions, as the smaller New York Stadium pitch allows us to press and harry the opposition more effectively.

Furthermore, personally I find Rotherham don’t tend to get the 50/50 refereeing decisions on the road away at bigger clubs with bigger crowds.

Sunderland v Rotherham United - Sky Bet Championship
Jobe Bellingham scored a brace when the two sides met earlier this season.
Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

In terms of tactical style and approach, what can Sunderland expect from you?

From what we’ve seen so far, we’re likely to set up in a 3-5-2 formation.

As in our Boxing Day victory over Middlesbrough, I’d expect us to surrender possession and try to remain compact, with the hope of nicking a goal from a set-piece, a moment of individual brilliance or a complete fluke (see Cohen Bramall’s winner against Middlesbrough).

Are any players missing and which eleven players do you think he will select?

Given that we won on Boxing Day, I’d expect the same starting XI, although given the age of some of our players, Richardson may freshen things up.

Our starting eleven against Middlesbrough was Johansson, Lembikisa, Odoffin, Morrison, Revan, Bramall, Lindsay, Tiehi, Rathbone, Hugill, and Nombe.

I’m not sure whether Sean Morrison can play three games in a week, and if not it’d be Daniel Ayala returning to the fray, although given that he’s been sent off in his last two appearances, he’s not particularly popular with the fanbase right now.

Our two first choice centre backs, Cameron Humphreys and Tyler Blackett, are long-term injuries. Grant Hall is once again ruled out injured, Shane Ferguson hasn’t featured at all this season, and Luton loanee Fred Onyedinma and Lee Peltier are also expected to miss out.

In summary, we have plenty of injured players and we won’t be able to fill our bench.

Sunderland have lost both of their recent visits to Rotherham, what is your prediction for the final score this time around?

Our 1-0 Boxing Day victory over Middlesbrough was one of the biggest robberies you’ll see, and I can’t see us getting away with that type of showing again.

My heart says that we’ll turn in a typical Rotherham performance - full of energy and endeavour to secure another home win - but my head says we’ll lose 0-2.

I rate Jack Clarke as the best player in the league, so our ability to stop him will be a key factor in how this game pans out.


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