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Smallwood relishing Boro reunion

Rotherham midfielder Richie Smallwood needs no extra motivation for the visit of Middlesbrough this weekend.

If selected, the 23-year-old will be coming up against the club he grew up at and only left a couple of months ago after being told he was not in manager Aitor Karanka’s plans.

That came as a massive disappointment for the Redcar-born Smallwood.

Having made his debut as a 19-year-old and being around the first-team scene for four seasons, he struggled to get into the side following Karanka’s appointment last year.

That allowed Smallwood to make a loan move to the Millers in January and things could not have gone better for him at New York, playing an integral part in the successful run to the play-off final and scoring the winning penalty in the shootout against Leyton Orient.

But he returned to the Riverside in the summer determined to force his way into the reckoning, only to find out pretty quickly that it would be a fruitless task.

Luckily, boss Steve Evans, who had tried to sign the midfielder permanently in the summer, renewed his interest and a permanent move to South Yorkshire followed in August.

Although being frustrated at his situation at Boro, he takes it on the chin and is excited about Saturday’s reunion.

“It is the game I am looking forward to the most for obvious reasons,” he exclusively said.
“I have just signed from them, it will be good and I can’t wait.

Richie Smallwood was a Wembley hero for Rotherham last season
“I was part of that club for a lot of years and I thoroughly enjoyed my time there. But I have moved on now and it’s a new chapter in my career now.

“It was frustrating how things went there, but obviously the manager did not think I was worthy of a regular spot.

“It’s just unfortunate really, in senior football things like that happen. I just tried to work hard and take it on the chin.

“I enjoyed my time there. I don’t know if I was given enough chances, I don’t know who decides that really.

“Every time I played I tried my best, but in the end it just didn’t work out.

“Aitor decided to go with other players and that’s where we are, I am at Rotherham and I can’t wait for the game.”

Smallwood was fortunate that he had a club waiting in the wings for his services that already thought so highly of him.

But doing what Smallwood did on loan last season will do that.

Coming into the club in January, the defensive midfielder was a key component of a brilliant second half of the campaign for the Millers and his role cannot be understated.

And in many ways it was fitting that he scored what was effectively the winning penalty at Wembley.

“When I joined the club were right up there pushing for promotion and it all just fell into place perfectly,” he added. “It was the best way of doing it and we managed to get over the line. It was a day we’ll never forget.

“Scoring the penalty was just an added bonus really, the lads worked really hard and I was just pleased to be part of it.”

A few weeks ago Smallwood would have been one of the first names on the teamsheet for this clash, but injury at the end of September ruled him out for a couple of games and he has since been unable to break back into the Millers side.

Again he is happy to take that on the chin, with his team-mates going five games without defeat, but knows his chance will come again.

“I have been fully fit for a good number of weeks,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that I got injured and lost my place in the team and the lads are unbeaten since but that’s where we are at the minute.

“Hopefully I will get a chance, everyone wants to play. That’s just football you get injured and you lose your place. You just have to keep working hard and hope you get another chance. Once you get in the team and you do well you stay in the team.”

Along coming up against his former club, the added spice to Boro’s first-ever competitive visit to New York is their lofty perch in the table.

That means it will be a tough encounter for the Millers, but Smallwood is offering some inside information on his former team-mates.

“We know they are a good team, their form and where they are in the league speaks for itself, but it’s a test we will be ready for,” he concluded. 

“We have been doing well so hopefully it will be another three points.

“I am not sure whether the gaffer will use me for information, we’ll see how it goes. I am here if he wants to.”

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