With the Football League kick-off this weekend, this series of articles takes a closer look at the 24 teams vying for the £100 million Premier League bonanza.
Rotherham’s dramatic play-off win in May will be remembered as much for manager Steve Evans’ celebratory touchline jaunts as it will be for some high-quality goals, a remarkable comeback and the drama of the penalty shootout win.
Last season, Evans completed a project that has been ongoing for five or so years. Rotherham’s return to the second tier after an nine-year absence corresponds with a glorious chapter in the club’s history which has seen them rise from relegation, administration, points deductions and eviction from their home ground to now find themselves playing in a new stadium, buoyed by successive promotions.
As well as the excellent work done off the field, manager Evans deserves enormous credit for what he has achieved with the Millers.
A sometimes controversial figure, Evans has nevertheless proven himself a masterful motivator and lower league manager. Now he has the opportunity to rub shoulders with some big names and pit himself against significantly bigger clubs in the Championship.
Evans wasted no time making his mark in the transfer market and he has completely transformed his squad, bringing in 12 players and releasing 13. How this huge turnover of playing staff affects the spirit within the squad remains to be seen and it will be some task in itself for Evans to form so many new recruits into a cohesive unit.
On the positive side, Evans has done some shrewd work and there is no shortage of players experienced in the scrap of Championship survival. Evans has worked wonders to convince the likes of Matt Derbyshire and Scott Loach that Rotherham is the right project. His success in bringing in this calibre of player could set them apart from their rivals.
If they do gel I believe Rotherham, with Evans in charge, have every chance of survival - but probably by the mere skin of their teeth.
Last Season: N/A (promoted from League One)
Manager: Steve Evans
Transfers In*: Conor Newton (Newcastle, free), Matt Derbyshire (Nottingham Forest, free), Scott Loach (Ipswich, free), Kirk Broadfoot (Blackpool, free), Jordan Bowery (Aston Villa, undisclosed), Mat Sadler (Crawley, free), Richard Wood (Charlton, free), Ryan Hall (MK Dons, free), Frazer Richardson (Middlesbrough, free), Febian Brandy (Sheffield United, free), Paul Green (Leeds, free), John Swift (Chelsea, loan)
Transfers Out*: Nicky Adams (Bury, free), Wes Thomas (Birmingham, free), Kayode Odejayi (Tranmere, free), David Worrall (Southend, free), Mitch Rose (Crawley, loan), Nicky Walker, Danny Rowe (both Wycombe, loan) Scott Shearer, Claude Davis, Michael O’Connor, David Noble, Lionel Ainsworth, Danny Schofield (released)
One To Watch: Kieran Agard (forward)
The sudden emergence of Agard as a prolific forward caused as much a surprise as it did delight to Rotherham fans last season. Agard’s 21 goals were a big contribution to the Millers' promotion push and was the first sign that he was ready to make good on his potential.
After failing to make the grade at Everton, Agard spent the new few seasons drifting through the lower leagues with fairly modest spells at Peterborough, Yeovil and Kilmarnock. His first season at Rotherham hinted only at glimpses of quality, but last season he finally arrived.
Whether Agard can translate that form to the higher level of the Championship remains to be seen, but like all lower league phenomena it is exciting to see whether he can make that step-up.
Agard will need to hit the ground running as Evans has wasted no time bringing in competition in the form of ex-Aston Villa forward Jordan Bowery and ex-Blackburn striker (and once England hopeful) Derbyshire.
It will be a big test for Agard and his best form and goals will be required if Rotherham are to avoid an instant return to League One.
Selected Odds: Champions 66-1; Promotion 20-1; Relegation 3-1
Opening Fixtures: Derby (A), Wolves (H), Watford (H)
*correct at the time of writing
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