Another trip to ‘God’s County’ stands in the way of Aston Villa’s quest for yet another victory today. Via the M6, A42, M42 onto the M1, or straight onto the A38 then M1 depending whether you like roundabouts or not, Villa travel to Rotherham United hoping to register a 7th straight win.
South Yorkshire has had its ups and downs for Villa so far this year, losing 4-1 to Sheffield United at Bramall Lane to last Saturday’s limbs beating Sheffield Wednesday 3-1 in the dying minutes. Despite Villa being big favourites at the bookies, I don’t see this as an easy encounter by any means.
Villa currently sit 6th with a chance to go 5th while the Millers are 22nd, and a win for them could see them out of the relegation zone.
Head to Head
The first fixture between the two teams happened 66 years ago on Valentine’s Day 1953 – since then, it has become a meeting Villa literally love.
A 3-1 victory for Villa back in 1953 should have been a precursor for the six decades to follow as Villa have gone on to win 12 of their 17 meetings with Rotherham, losing only four times with one draw.
In the 21st century, only four meetings of the sides have occurred with the Claret and Blue winning all four, scoring 10 goals without conceding. Rotherham’s last triumph came in October 1971 when both teams were in the old Division 3 where Rotherham would claim a 2-1 win at Villa Park – Villa would go on to get revenge with a 2-0 away win later that season.
History has been good to Villa against the side from South Yorkshire, in our past 17 meetings Villa have scored 32 goals while only conceding 10 – quite reminiscent of our current form.
Over the last six games, there has been no better team in the EFL Championship than Aston Villa. Six wins from six has seen us amass 18 points, scoring the most goals in the league as well as conceding the least (16-3), seeing us climb seven spots to 6th.
Rotherham’s current league position doesn’t tell a fair story in all honesty. Barring a 6-1 hammering from Derby County, the Millers have given a pretty good account of themselves, sitting 13th in the form table after 3 wins and 3 losses in their last 6 games.
Both sides will be in high spirits coming off the back of big wins – Villa scoring two late goals to seal a 3-1 win over the Owls at Hillsborough while United took the scalp of playoff chasers Nottingham Forest in a 2-1 home win. Despite an encouraging turn of form, Villa should be undeterred in the knowledge that United have a serious problem with keeping the ball from finding their net; the last clean sheet for Rotherham was in a 0-0 draw with Millwall on February 2nd.
Last 6 games:
Villa have found a way to win when not completely dominating matches; a backbone is something we’ve been lacking for quite a while now but for the most part, talent and skill have been the main factors in our recent successes.
The return of Grealish has added a much-needed balance to the midfield with John McGinn being the main beneficiary. McGinn has scored four goals with two assists in his last five appearances, benefitting from a role higher up the pitch. Jack Grealish’s penchant to drop deeper in the building phases of play has allowed McGinn to roam the spaces between the opposition midfield and defence with much more freedom as an obvious emphasis on stopping Grealish sees players drawn to him, leaving Super John to roam.
In our last outing, particularly in the second half I think we fell foul of some organised pressing which impacted our building phases dramatically as the obvious outlet of Glenn Whelan was being cut off quite often. I would be hard-pressed to find a problem with Villa of late but if there is one this would be it. Jack Grealish found himself dropping deeper, almost into the back line at times against Wednesday to relieve some of the pressure from the back-four at the expense of his obvious attacking threat so trying to avoid this is imperative. A way of doing this may be to drop Whelan so deep he effectively becomes a third centre-back with an emphasis on distribution rather than a defensive destructive presence. This is a tactic used intermittently by Dean Smith to outnumber the oppositions forwards and bypass the first press.
I expect changes to be made against an opposition who appear less of a threat but mainly down to injuries and fatigue with the likes of Kortney Hause and a couple others.
I’ll be the first to admit the on-goings at the New York Stadium won’t be my specialist subject if an appearance on BBC’s Mastermind ever beckons but with an impressive win in their last game, I see Rotherham keeping the same team unless injuries play a part. It would look like this: Rodak; Jones, Ihiekwe, Wood, Mattock; Ajayi, Vaulks, Towell; Taylor, Smith, Newell.
If Villa can stay clear of not underestimating their midweek opponent, I believe another win is on the cards but as a Rotherham fan will now tell you, it may not be as straight forward as we think.
A Rotherham Fans’ View
I asked my friend and Millers Season Ticket holder Jake Vickers (@jvickers_) on how he sees the game panning out.
Are you encouraged by your recent form?
“If you take away the Derby result where we took a hammering with a patched up side because of injuries and suspensions we’ve done quite well in recent weeks. We finally got the duck off our back after winning away at this level for the first time in nearly two years. We went toe to toe with Norwich but narrowly fell short and then we beat playoff chasing Forest last week. Although results haven’t been amazing the performances have been very encouraging and for a side punching above our weight, we can have no complaints with the effort levels from the players.”
How do you see the game going today?
“It’s a tough one to predict in my opinion, on paper there should only be one winner as Villa should have more than enough to see us off. However, Rotherham have been very good at home and pulled off some notable scalps both this year and in previous years at the New York so anything is possible. I expect goals with Villa’s quality and our tendency to give away goals, if I had to make a prediction, I’d say 2-2 but it always depends which Rotherham team decides to show up!”
What threat do the Millers pose and how can you beat Villa?
“The one thing that Rotherham do offer, particularly at home is a very different challenge to the majority of other sides at this level. We will be very physical and direct, look to get into oppositions faces, make it difficult to play and Smith up top will always be a handful for defenders.”
Who has been Rotherham’s standout player?
Semi Ajayi has been excellent this year for us and will most likely end up our player of the year. It will be between 3 or 4 key players, however Ajayi is naturally a centre half who has been pushed into a holding midfield position in an attempt to add solidarity to the side however has gone on an unbelievable run over the last month or so and is currently our leading goal scorer! That does say a little about our lack of goals and ability to finish teams off at times
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By Jack Cudworth