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Club News

The Championship Years - Part Three

1 July 2015

By Les Payne...

This third instalment sees Rotherham United - having just clocked up their 16th match of the 2001/02 season - finding their feet in the Football League's second tier following the back-to-back promotions.

After a start which didn't see a win until their 11th game, they had started to pick up points and had moved up to 19th, four points above the relegation zone.

This period of matches was notable for a remarkable contribution from rugged defender Chris Swailes.

In the eight matches which follow in this piece, he scored four goals - quite some going for a central defender.

In all, in a run of ten matches from late October to mid-December, big 'Swaz' scored six times. That is an amazing statistic for a defender. 

Tuesday, October 30th Rotherham United 2 Crewe Alexandra 2

Crewe had shown how to punch above your weight as this was their fifth season in Division One (as it was then).

Their long-serving manager Dario Gradi arrived at Millmoor just a couple of games away from his 1,000th game in charge of the Alex. 

The game certainly had a quick fire start with three goals in the opening 12 minutes.

Dave Brammer gave the Alex a ninth minute lead which Mark Robins cancelled out inside 60 seconds.

But the Railwaymen were soon back in front through Kenny Lunt.

It stayed that way to half-time before, three minutes after the interval, Chris Swailes headed Rotherham's second equaliser and that's how it stayed.

Team: Pollitt; Scott, Swailes, McIntosh, Hurst; Sedgwick, Mullin, Talbot, Monkhouse; Lee, Robins.

Sunday, November 4th Birmingham City 2 Rotherham United 2

This was a first, indeed, a one and only so far - and there won't be too many fans wanting a repeat really.

This was Sunday night football and whereas the Millers have probably played at some stage on just about every part of every day (perhaps not a Saturday or Sunday morning tho), a Sunday evening game was a first and a 6 o'clock kick-off.

It was at the behest of the doomed ITV Digital channel who selected this unusual time for a few of the games they showed. This trip to St.Andrews was one of them.

There was a big crowd, 28,000, as the Blues cut back on prices for kids and drummed up support for this game and it made for a cracking atmosphere. 

Birmingham were among the strongly-fancied teams but it was probably the game in which the Millers really 'grew up' because they certainly matched what was a strong Blues side and Ronnie Moore's men weren't overawed by the atmosphere or the stadium either.

It was to be a significant game for striker Alan Lee too.

He hadn't managed a goal in the 15 games he'd played and whilst people never questioned his value to the team, they were questioning whether he could get goals at this level. 

Well, 16 minutes in he answered those questions - and how - with an absolutely thumping header after a giant leap. His celebrations with the big Millers following at that end showed his sheer joy.

They held the lead until right on half-time when a Guy Branston own goal put Birmingham level and six minutes after the break, Geoff Horsfield had them in front.

But the Millers showed they were made of stern stuff and Chris Swailes quickly equalised  for what was his third goal in three games. 

It was both an excellent point and performance and showed they could handle 'big' name clubs and not be overawed by big, noisy crowds.

Friday, November 9th Millwall 1 Rotherham United 0

The clubs had forged a rivalry the previous season when Millwall pipped the Millers to the Division Two (now League One) title.

In doing so, Millwall had given Rotherham a 4-0 beating in a really intimidating atmosphere late on in that season at the New Den.

Millwall had a fine side at this time - they were to make the Play-offs in this first season after promotion, losing in the semi-finals to Rotherham's previous opponents Birmingham who went on to get promotion back to the top flight.

Rotherham did perform much better this time but still went down to a 23rd minute goal from Tim Cahill, the goalscoring Aussie attacking midfielder who made a speciality of headed goals thanks to superbly timed late runs.

Saturday, November 17th Rotherham United 2 West Bromwich Albion 1

This was Rotherham's best result so far and, you may argue, could be regarded as their best of the season as the Baggies were to be promoted. 

It was also an unforgettable afternoon for Millers right winger Chris Sedgwick. He didn't score but he was the player who terrorised Albion throughout. 

This was an Albion side who, across the season, had a fantastic defensive record. They kept 24 clean sheets and had the club's lowest ever total for goals conceded, just 29.

But on this particular afternoon, Sedgwick played probably the game of his life. He totally destroyed Albion left back Neil Clement, who was teased and tormented. 

He simply could not get to grips with 'Sedgy' and his display added a cutting edge to a splendid performance in which the whole team really rose to this challenge.

Chris Swailes gave Rotherham the lead on 23 minutes and Alan Lee scored his first goal at home since the previous season's promotion clincher against Brentford.

Albion, who were to win 17 games by a 1-0 margin that season under the management of Gary Megson, could have no complaints.

The 8,500 crowd roared the Millers on and the only blip came too late with Darren Moore scoring in stoppage time for Albion who side included up front Uwe Rosler, the current manager of Leeds United. 

Saturday, November 24th Manchester City 2 Rotherham United 1

Dust off the old football saying 'we wuz robbed'. The Millers most definitely were.

It was the game of the handball goal - City's Christian Negouai scoring a City equaliser just before half-time when he fisted the ball into the net. 

City, relegated the previous season from the top flight, were managed by Kevin Keegan and looking to get back at the first attempt. They did.

Former Millers favourite Shaun Goater was missing but they had the frightening pace of Darren Huckerby and the trickery of the emerging Shaun Wright-Phillips. 

In defence they had Stuart Pearce,  Richard Dunne and Steve Howey. 

In front of 34,000 at City's old Maine Road ground, Rotherham stunned the home fans by taking a 24th minute lead.

It was that man Chris Swailes again making it five goals in six games.

But two minutes from the break City equalised when a high ball saw Negouai challenge. It ended up in the net and there were Rotherham complaints. Many in the crowd. To be fair, were not sure why. 

But  above the Press Box were a couple of TV monitors. They showed a replay of the goal and some City fans on the back row of the stand were able to lean back and see the replay. 

They laughed when they saw what actually happened, Negouai going up in a group of four players, touching the ball with his hand to divert it over goalkeeper Mike Pollitt.

Rotherham protests came to nothing but, of course, word travelled quickly around the ground that it was a clear case of handball which had gone undetected.

To rub salt into that wound, just as the Millers were closing in on a point and battling through mounting City pressure late on, they conceded with just two minutes to go, Algerian Ali Benarbia netting City's winner - which really should have been no more than an equaliser.

Saturday, December 1st Rotherham United 2 Walsall 0

The unfortunate manner of defeat at Manchester City together with the performances against West Brom and Birmingham, had seen the confidence and belief of Ronnie Moore's team reach a new level.

This was reflected in the comfortable manner in which they disposed of Walsall who included future Millers striker Darren Byfield in their line-up.

Midfielder John Mullin scored his first goal for the club after 34 minutes.

With 14 minutes left, Alan Lee secured the points with his third goal in four games (he had missed the game at Manchester City).

Saturday, December 8th Bradford City  3 Rotherham United 1

A big Millers following travelled up to Valley Parade and they saw their side undone by two goals in two minutes early in the second half.

Both came from that tricky costumer Robbie Blake. The first was a penalty after 55 minutes and he quickly followed that up to make it 2-0.

Rob Scott cut the deficit on 74 minutes but City finished them off eight minutes from time through Ashley Ward.

Saturday, December 15th Rotherham United 1 Preston North End 0

The Millers had started to make Millmoor a very difficult place for opponents and this was the fourth home win in the past five home games, the other being a draw.

Against a strong Preston side who were to challenge for the Play-offs, Rotherham battled their way to victory after a great start.

It had been Chris Swailes on the mark in recent games but it was his fellow central defender Martin McIntosh who proved the matchwinner here, scoring after just three minutes and it was to prove enough.

Compare now the team against Preston and the one against Crewe at the start of this instalment.

Pollitt; Scott, Swailes, McIntosh, Hurst; Sedgwick, Mullin, Watson, Monkhouse; Barker, Robins.

*Next time, there's a great comeback at Bramall Lane (and how did the Millers fans get Blades fans applauding them?), a duel of two brothers and the most dramatic finish to a game all season. 


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