DRIVING past the now dilapidated Millmoor ground in Rotherham, the imposing New York Stadium thunders into view.
The difference between old home and new emphasises the stark change in Rotherham United’s fortunes. Their new £25million venue is worthy of a much higher plain than the club’s League Two Status.
Fitting, then, that John Sutton should continue his own personal transformation against the South Yorkshire club. The Englishman has gone from outcast to mainstay at Hearts inside a couple of weeks, scoring his third goal in four pre-season outings to secure victory on Saturday. The new SPL season now begins in earnest with Sutton – a player loaned to Australia’s Central Coast Mariners last season because he was not rated by his then-manager Paulo Sergio – the club’s main attacking threat.
“Sutty has scored three goals in four games and that’s a positive from our point of view,” said John McGlynn. As Sergio’s successor, he has effectively shaped his team around Sutton. “We’ve only got one striker and that’s John Sutton, so of course he’ll have a big part to play.
“After three goals in four games, I said to him if he scores 37 goals in the next 38 games I’ll be delighted,” joked McGlynn. “He’s a good professional. He trains very well, he’s a good lad, he’s a team player and he’s a big strong boy who can win flick-ons and knockdowns.
“He got on the end of a cross to score against Rotherham, he scored a penalty against Dunfermline last week and he had a really good goal against Raith Rovers in our first friendly. He brings a lot to the first team. I’m not concerned about what happened last season at Hearts. I’ve got to go forward with the players I’ve got.”
The inference is McGlynn is merely happy to have an experienced forward like Sutton given the paucity of his options in that area. Sutton was flanked by wingers Andy Driver and David Templeton on Saturday and ultimately scored the goal which allowed Hearts the honour of being the first team to win at Rotherham’s new stadium. However, the visitors had toiled for much of the first half.
Teenager Callum Paterson went on a marauding run on four minutes before seeing his shot blocked by the legs of Scott Shearer, the Rotherham goalkeeper. The hosts then took command, with Daniel Nardiello and Ben Pringle having efforts at goal. Pringle in particular was causing problems with his movement in a No. 10 position in behind forwards Nardiello and Alex Revell.
Driver’s 30th-minute corner was headed over Shearer’s crossbar by Andy Webster and Hearts also appealed for a penalty when Ryan McGowan was fouled near the edge of the Rotherham box. Referee Craig Pawson decided only a free-kick was merited.
Three minutes after the interval, Hearts struck. McGowan delivered a waist-high cross. Sutton manoeuvred himself in front of his marker to prod the ball into the net with his right foot from around six yards. He then jogged off to be acclaimed by around 750 travelling fans from Edinburgh.
Rotherham’s Kari Arnason, a former Hearts trialist, wasted a chance to equalise instantly from a free header, but that apart Steve Evans team looked far less threatening throughout the second half than they had during the first. Both managers took the opportunity to introduce substitutes, with McGlynn examining the limited choices he has in terms of strikers.
“We’ve got younger strikers, like Dale Carrick who came on, and he is one for the future,” he said. “If he has to go in quicker then he goes in quicker. Gordon Smith we left at home to do some more training rather than come down and play for maybe 20 minutes. Gordon is ready to come back in and stake a claim for a jersey. We hope to get a bounce game for him to play in this week, likewise a few others.”
A few months ago, Sutton would have been one of those on the fringes looking to get some action in a closed-door friendly. Not so now. His contribution could be pivotal to Hearts’ fortunes this season.
Rotherham (4-3-1-2): Shearer; Hunt (Mullins 36), Sharps, Bradley, Wilson; O’Connor (Rose 46), Noble (Taylor 58), Arnason (Ainsworth 63); Pringle (Evans 63); Revell (Odejayi 58), Nardiello (Agard 58). Subs: Warrington.
Hearts (4-3-3): MacDonald; Paterson, Webster, Zaliukas, McHattie (Grainger 63); Robinson (Holt 79), Barr (D McGowan), R McGowan; Driver (Novikovas 64), Sutton (Carrick 74), Templeton (Taouil 76). Subs: Ridgers.