Pompey face their toughest test of the season as they make the trip to the New York Stadium to take on Rotherham United.
The Millers have started the season in ominous form and despite Pompey coming off a 4-0 win against Sunderland, Saturday’s clash will be the real barometer of where Pompey are on the pitch.
Paul Warne’s side have been the perennial Championship/League One yo-yo side for the past five years; consistently showing themselves to be too good for the third tier, but not quite cutting it in the second tier.
A common theme among Rotherham’s recent promotions has been a slow start and gaining momentum, however, the South Yorkshire side have made a fast start on their return to the third tier, currently fifth and unbeaten in six matches. To see Rotherham crowned Champions come may, wouldn’t be a shock.
So what have been the catalysts for this uncharacteristic fast start? Statistically, Warne’s men are completely dominating the rest of League One. They have a style that has consistently worked at this level and has been perfected.
So far, this has resulted in them having the highest expected points, highest expected goals, most shots in the league, and the second-best defensive record. That is just naming a handful of the areas that this side has dominated in.
The Millers have typically been quite a direct side, but it is not merely hoof and hope. There’s a meticulous method to how they go about their work. Warne’s average the third-lowest number of short passes in the division.
They look to get the ball to their physical front men quickly. The likes of former Pompey man Michael Smith, Will Grigg, and Freddie Ladapo are all used to run channels and hold the ball up.
However, if the ball is lost during this phase of play, the Millers will look to win the ball high up the pitch with the energy that they have in midfield. The Yorkshire side allow the opposition around 7.6 passes before they win the ball back.
Their pressing game is crucial to giving them a foothold to then display their array of attacking threats. Ollie Rathbone, Dan Barlaser, and Ben Wiles all look to press the opposition quickly high up the pitch. Rathbone has won more defensive duels than any other player in the division with 115.
Pompey will need Sean Raggett and Conor Ogilvie (if fit) to be at their very best if they’re to get anything from this fixture.
Rotherham are the divisions’ most potent side from crosses and set-pieces. It will be interesting to see how Gavin Bazunu also copes with an ariel bombardment with the likes of Smith and Grigg keeping him company.
Rotherham average the most shots per 90 in the division with 14 and the most headed attempts. Unsurprisingly, they have also had the most crosses in the division. They have attempted 261 crosses which is 34 more than anyone else in League One.
The Millers mainly utilise the right flank with Chiedozie Ogbene and Kieran Sadlier providing a constant threat from the right. Irish international winger Ogbene is one to watch, with the fourth-highest expected assists and most crosses in League One.
The constant barrage of crosses has resulted in Rotherham’s frontmen having plenty of chances inside the opposition’s area. Smith has had more touches in the area than any player in League One and currently has nine goals and assists to his name – not bad for a player who was ridiculed, somewhat unfairly, during his time at Fratton Park.
So how to Pompey try and topple this excellent Rotherham side? The Blues have really struggled to break sides down this season. If Cowley’s men dominate the ball, getting past this physical and well-drilled Millers’ defence will prove a tough challenge. Warne’s side have the least shots against in the division; they do not give up many chances.
We have certainly seen Cowley be adaptable, last week against Sunderland being an excellent example. Dropping slightly deeper and looking to exploit spaces behind the Rotherham defence looks the most likely route to success.
In Rotherham’s last league defeat to Fleetwood, two of the Cod army’s goals came from long balls in behind the Miller’s defence. Utilising Marcus Harness’ pace in behind could be a good avenue to success. Reeco-Hackett would be a good option to come in for the suspended Ronan Curtis. Hackett has the pace that could hurt the likes of Richard Wood and Michael Ihiekwe in the Rotherham defence.
Beating the high counter-press from the home side and finding attacking players in space looks one of the only ways Pompey could hurt the home side; merely going wide and crossing it in will not reap any rewards at the New York stadium.
Pompey could start relatively fast in this, coming off the Sunderland display. Marcus Harness to score first in a 1-1 draw would be an excellent outcome for the Blues.
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