Rotherham United assistant manager Richie Barker took time out to speak to the local media via Zoom this afternoon, ahead of the Millers' final home fixture of the 2020/21 campaign on Saturday.
Blackburn Rovers are the opponents at AESSEAL New York Stadium and Barker discussed the prospect of facing a Rovers side whose fate has already been sealed this season and the challenges that could potentially pose his team.
Also on the agenda were subjects including the fitness of goalkeeper Viktor Johansson, who missed Tuesday’s meeting with Brentford due to concussion protocols and the impact the hectic fixture programme has had on the team in recent weeks.
Barker on Viktor Johansson’s fitness…
“Obviously there are very stringent rules on concussion and whether you can play or not. They do it the same as they would for an outfield player, which is strange from a goalkeeping point of view because you wouldn’t think he would be heading it as much.
“He is coming along pretty well in terms of ticking the boxes on route to his recovery and he has joined in with some aspects of training this afternoon.
“He’s going in the right direction but it obviously has to be done slowly and safely. We’ll have another conversation about him tomorrow to make sure he’s ticked all of them boxes.
“When he comes to concussion, you have to make sure you’ve literally ticked every box, it is not like other injuries where you could maybe get away with someone playing with a slight knock.”
Barker on the enhanced focus on concussion protocols over recent years…
“There has definitely been an increase in focus on concussion protocols, even recently. I can remember when I was playing around 12 years ago and I can definitely remember playing in a game and being carried off totally unconscious, had no idea where I was and was out for a long period of time on a Tuesday night, trained on the Thursday and played on the Saturday.
“There is obviously a lot of research that has gone into it now, especially with players in their 50s or 60s with the impact playing football has had and there has definitely been a huge improvement in protocols and stringent rules.”
Barker on the impact of the packed fixture schedule…
“The only game where players can safely say they are 100% fit for is the first game of the season, it is small niggling injuries that people won’t normally know about when you play Saturday to Saturday.
“For example, you could pick it up at the weekend, not train on the Monday but then be back in again on the Thursday.
“Unfortunately, when you’re playing as frequently as we are sometimes, the minor injuries can rule you out for the midweek games.
“There has definitely been times where we’ve had to say to players ‘can you get through this?’
It is an unprecedented time, which I’m sure has been said a million times, but it is true.
“To say that we’ve only got a couple of injuries at present is testament to how the place is run and also the mentality of the players.”
Barker on the final push before the end of the season…
“We had a 10 week pre-season and we knew we had to be fit with the volume of games that was coming.
“We’re well aware of what we ask of them physically and we know after coming this far they will give us everything for the last nine days.”
Barker on the Millers’ fortune in recent weeks…
“We’ve lost five games recently all by a goal and we’ve had some pretty bad fortune over recent weeks. We had the Crooks red card when we were 1-0 up against Middlesbrough and went on to lose and then at Barnsley it is a foul on Viktor for their opening goal, in my opinion.
“We missed chances at both Huddersfield and Millwall as well. In fairness, I think that has pretty much been the story of our season. You look back to games like Norwich at home earlier in the season. 1-0 up and playing well, then we lose a man, score and own goal and concede a late penalty to lose.
“I think it shows just how close we are and on the positive side, it means our fortune could turn the other way in our next few games.”
Barker on facing Blackburn Rovers…
“All the games over the last month have been difficult because of the limited time we’ve had to prepare.
“It is very difficult to second guess what the opposition manager is going to do in terms of selection.
The three teams that we’re playing between now at the end of the season are pretty safe in midtable, but that does not mean it will be an easy game by any stretch.
“Players are still playing for contract and all that comes with it and they could play with freedom having pressure off them. I watched Blackburn against Sheffield Wednesday a few weeks ago and they won at the weekend and played really well, so we know they will provide us with a tough test.”