Michael Smith and Matt Crooks have been on fire for Rotherham United of late, as they are leading their team’s charge for Championship survival…
One of Paul Warne’s main problems at the start of this season was nailing down a regular pairing upfront. He tested out every variation in the first few months, but none really hit the heights he hoped for on a regular basis.
Smith was in and out of the team at the start of the campaign, but he came off the bench against Swansea City in November and made a real impact.
He was handed a start against QPR in the following game and he got his first goal of the season as Rotherham narrowly lost 3-2. This was the forward’s best showing in some time, and he has not looked back since.
In the previous 14 Championship games, Smith has started in all but two of them. One was against Barnsley when Rotherham were hit with a COVID-19 outbreak. The other was when he was rested against Preston, but he was brought on in both games.
— Paul Davis (@paulm_davis) February 17, 2021
Crooks was another player who was not at his best at the start of this season. He received criticism from some fans as he struggled to reach the heights he had previously in a Millers shirt.
The 27-year-old’s last-minute winner against Preston in November was his first league goal of the campaign. His form started to pick up from here, but Rotherham’s FA Cup tie against Everton was a big turning point for not just Crooks, but the team as a whole.
This was the first game that he played up front with Smith as part of Warne’s 3-5-2 formation. The Millers conceded an early goal, but they were the better side for the rest of the tie as they put the Toffees on the back foot.
The duo were key to this, with Warne clearly seeing enough in this game to go with them in the league as well.
Their first game up top in the Championship was at Pride Park against Derby. This proved to be a brilliant away showing against a below-par Rams side. Jamie Lindsay grabbed an 86th-minute winner, but a lot of Rotherham’s good work came through Smith and Crooks.
The pair kicked on against Stoke City. They shared three goals and an assist as the Millers drew 3-3 with Michael O’Neil’s side in a cracking game at the New York Stadium.
After going over a week without playing, Rotherham then travelled to the Riverside to face Neil Warnock’s Middlesbrough. Warne’s men perhaps put in their best showing of the season here as they steamrolled the play-off chasers.
Smith and Crooks both scored as the visitors picked up a rare 3-0 away victory in the second tier. After that, the South Yorkshire outfit lost 3-1 to a very good Swansea City side. That palled into insignificance to their game against Derby days later, though.
Tony Stewart ordered a sh*t ton of snow and rain on Tuesday, so the game had to be put back a day. But that did not bother the Millers… Three second half goals earned them a huge 3-0 win over their relegation rivals.
As you would expect, Smudge and Crooksy were at the forefront again as they got a goal and two assists between them.
Last time out they were beaten by Cardiff, but they combined again in now trademark fashion for Rotherham’s only goal…
Last ten Championship games for Rotherham United…
Michael Smith – Six goals, three assists
Matt Crooks – five goals, two assists
Warne’s men are on a great run at the moment and that is largely down to the showings of their attackers.
Despite struggling early on this campaign, both players are now in the form of their lives for the Millers. They have struck up a phenomenal partnership in a very short space of time. They clearly are good mates off the pitch, which no doubt helps with their understanding.
When Smith is playing well, Rotherham more often than not play well as well. He is so vital to everything that they do from his tireless pressing to his hold up play.
One criticism fans could have had of him in the past is his lack of goals. Given what he offers to the team, you can forgive him for this. Even so, he has silenced any remaining critics as he is currently Rotherham’s top scorer in the league with seven goals.
This is already one away from his tally of eight in 2018/19. He is on track to well surpass that should his brilliant form continue in the coming weeks.
Crooks meanwhile has shown how gifted he is during his spell at Rotherham. His form has dipped here and there, but now he is playing the best he ever has for the club.
The former Northampton man is a nightmare to deal with for any defender in this league. He is really unique, as there are few players like him in this division.
For a man of his size, you would expect him to be strong and tough to knock off the ball. Yet you would not think he would be as mobile or as good of a ball carrier as he is.
Smith and Crooks compliment each other so well. There is no wonder that they always seem to be in the middle of anything good that comes from Rotherham.
The Millers now travel to Bournemouth and Norwich in a matter of days. Despite both being in the Premier League last year, they will not have much fun dealing with Smith and Crooks if they are at their best.
If the league’s red-hot duo continue playing at such a high level, Rotherham should not have any problems securing their Championship status for another year…