By Gerry Prewett.
Bristol Rovers head up to the New York Stadium in South Yorkshire this weekend to face a Rotherham United team who are currently leading the Division. The Millers have won their last four games that included a 4-0 demolition of highly fancied Peterborough United and a 3-1 win at in-form Oxford United.
Perhaps the ray of light for Rovers is that Rotherham are much stronger away from home than they are at the New York Stadium.
That victory over Oxford in their last League game came with a fine first half performance. The strong start was rewarded with a 16th minute opener for Kyle Vassell, who was in the right place to turn home Chiedozie Ogbene's perfect cross. Vassell got another, his fourth in four games, with a superb lobbed finish after 33 minutes.
Richard Wood capped a perfect first-half performance when he scored a trademark header in time added on. Oxford, who won 3-0 at Rotherham earlier in the season, improved after the break and got one back through debutant loanee Marcus Browne in the 71st minute.
Interviewed after the game Boss Paul Warne said, “We were good in the first half and I thought we deservedly went in 3-0 up. We had a plan of how to play against them. We had to block inside spaces, and we didn’t mind defending crosses.”
“The first half performance was enough to win the game. We rode our luck at times, defended really well at times and broke really well at times. Overall we’re really pleased against a really good team.”
Results between the teams are very even with 24 Rovers victories, 14 draws and 21 Rotherham in 59 games. The first ever meeting was on 21st November 1953 at Millmoor, where a Barrie Meyer goal secured a 1-1 draw. The return game at Eastville saw Paddy Hale score to give Rovers a 1-0 victory.
What was remarkable about Rovers visits to Millmoor was their lack of success in the early years. It took 19 games before they secured maximum points! During that spell there were 5 consecutive defeats followed by 6 consecutive draws. This included their worst defeat in only their second visit when they went down to a 6-2 hammering on 16 October 1954.
Rovers last victory at Rotherham was on 26 January 2013. Millers debutant Claude Davis bundled over Ryan Brunt to earn Rovers a penalty, which was converted by Lee Brown. The defender then received a second yellow card just before half-time.
Ellis Harrison's superb solo effort made it 2-0, it was a memorable first senior goal for 18-year-old Harrison, he had only been on the pitch for two minutes, having come on as a substitute for Eliot Richards, when he picked up the ball on the half-way line, weaved through the Millers' defence and fired a fierce right-footed shot past Andy Warrington.
Joe Anyinsah’s 61st minute powerful low effort into the bottom-left corner was his second goal in three games. David Noble gave Rovers a scare when he drilled in just two minutes after arriving on the field, but the away team settled their nerves and claimed a valuable three points.
The last time Rovers visited the New York Stadium was on 21st April 2018 and the Millers secured their place in the Play Offs with a 2-0 victory. Rotherham stormed ahead in the ninth minute when Michael Smith burst through the defence and curled an unstoppable effort into the top corner past Sam Slocombe.
Will Vaulks had two chances moments after the goal but both flew just over the crossbar.
Rovers’ first major opportunity was created by Byron Moore as he danced into the box from the right wing. His eventual shot was weak and was pushed out by Marek Rodak.
Rotherham almost got a clinching second goal through substitute Ryan Williams but he could throughout and he denied Kyle Bennett with a save with his legs. The points were sealed in the 90th minute with Caolan Lavery coming off the bench to turn in Newell's centre.
Paul Warne has had some national media focussed on him this week when former Arsenal and England midfielder Paul Merson gave his thoughts on what Jurgen Klopp might be able to do at Rotherham! "I'm a great lover of Klopp," Merson said. "I could use any team here, but I'm just going to say Rotherham... I think Klopp could go to Rotherham and take them to the Premier League in time. He's that good."
But Warne has other ideas as the manager of a club who have never played higher than the second tier, "I think the German coaching badges are a lot better than the English ones," he joked, "Jurgen is a lot more experienced than me. I can understand Paul Merson's comments because Klopp at the moment is head and shoulders above.”
"But if he got us to the Premier League, wow. I hope my chairman hasn't read that. I'm not sure he could bring Mane and Firmino here, though. I don't think the wage structure will work."
"I'm not sure if I could win the Champions League. I haven't been involved in many Champions League games, so my experience isn't really up there," he said, "I reckon I might be able to win the Premier League with Liverpool this year, if I took over now I would give myself a good chance. I don't want a job swap because I don't want to commute, that is too far for me, so if he did want to take the job..."