Championship Play-Off Final: Michael Owen’s View
Only four teams have been to the New York Stadium this season and won a Championship match against Rotherham.
In 3-2 and 4-0 home defeats to Hull and West Brom respectively, Rotherham out-shot their opponents a combined 34-25; in the 4-2 and 2-1 home losses to Brentford and Leeds respectively, meanwhile, the Millers were either winning or drawing for a combined 121 minutes.
That shows they have never been completely outplayed on their own turf and the energy with which they commit to their attacks when backed by fans can be a real problem for opposing teams.
They are almost certain to raise their game against Norwich, because the club is desperate to right the wrongs of their disastrous 2016-17 campaign and avoid relegation.
Having got over the mental block of not winning an away league game this season by defeating QPR 2-1 in West London, they will possess renewed confidence.
The Millers will have no qualms knocking balls into the box from free-kicks, corners, long throws and crosses for tall striker Michael Smith plus holding midfielder and/or auxiliary target man Semi Ajayi, with the latter causing endless problems at Loftus Road.
5️⃣ goals in last 4️⃣ apps
6️⃣ goals in last 9️⃣ apps
⚽️ scored braces including the winners in both of #Rotherham’s last 2️⃣ wins
6️⃣ goals this season – #RUFC top lge scorer
— Goodbrand Stats (@StatsChristian) March 13, 2019
For much of the season, the midfield had been one of Norwich’s strong-points.
Experience anchor man Alex Tettey had formed a reliable partnership with deep-lying playmaker Moritz Leitner.
When the former fell slightly out of favour and the latter got injured, the pairing of ball-winner Tommy Trybull and technician Mario Vrancic stepped up to the plate, with outstanding displays in 3-1 late-winter wins over Birmingham and Leeds.
Vrancic himself though has suffered fitness issues recently, so Farke has paired Trybull with Kenny McLean, but this has caused balance issues – even though the Canaries have just beaten Swansea and Hull 1-0 and 3-2 respectively.
While Leitner collected from the defence to dictate and Vrancic was a wise passer in the opposing half, McLean’s attacking instincts has led him to not only play much further up than his positional rivals, but also rush his use of the ball in a way that has not helped the fluidity of the team’s play.
The Canaries were well below-par in last Friday’s narrow victory over Swansea, only hitting the target once in the 90 – and while they created more against Hull, that was largely down to the brilliance of attacking players like Emi Buendia and Marco Stiepermann.
Hull took just 18 touches in Norwich’s penalty area all game while Swansea took 13 the previous Friday – that’s a combined 31 touches in the box, which is 10 fewer than Rotherham recorded in one home game, a 2-2 draw with Sheffield United.
The Millers should have won that November encounter and will look to that day as a blueprint for their performance against the Yellows, who will need their midfield to be stronger in a more intense encounter.
Otherwise, Rotherham will have opportunities to test the steel of goalkeeper Tim Krul, who has come under an element of scrutiny after enduring one or two nervy moments in the last couple of matches.
#ncfc ask lot of their GK. Must be able to join in back 4 passing, under pressure. McGovern at Wycombe showed how hard it is. Man City got rid of Hart because he couldn’t do it. Not a shock Krul can’t always get it right. But mostly, he does. That’s part of why he, & we, are No1.
— Mick Dennis (@MickDennisReal) March 14, 2019
Of course, this is not to discredit Norwich, or suggest they have anything other than a very good chance of promotion, because what they have done this season is hugely impressive.
However, the message that is being portrayed to them via many outsiders is that they are already up and – although Daniel Farke will try to keep his players grounded – that is a potentially dangerous thing to creep into their psyche.
Plus, Rotherham have avoided defeat in 14 (78%) of their 18 league home games this season, whereas Norwich have not won nine (50%) of their 18 away league encounters; the combined home and away percentages give Paul Warne’s side a 64% chance of avoiding defeat.
BetVictor’s 23/20 on them winning or drawing though, implies a probability of 46.5% which is a disparity of 17.5% – underestimate the battling Millers at your peril.
Read Gabriel’s League 1 preview here.