ONE of the country's top sports lawyers expects Rotherham to be deducted three points for fielding an ineligible player.
A behind-closed-doors hearing is taking place this week to determine whether the Millers' victory over Brighton on April 6 will be struck off.
Derby defender Farrend Rawson, pictured, kept a clean sheet and was voted man-of-the-match during a 1-0 win over the Seagulls – but his loan deal had expired the day before.
Embarrassingly for Rotherham boss Steve Evans, he said after the game that Rawson is good enough to one day break into the England team.
But the Yorkshire club will play down his contribution to the result and have hired Jim Sturman QC, who defended Millwall against two FA charges in 2009, to fight their corner.
A three-point deduction at this stage of the season would radically alter the landscape at the bottom of the Championship table, with the Lions taking a keen interest in proceedings.
And Dan Chapman, a lawyer who represented Norwich when they were reported to the League by rivals Colchester in 2009, anticipates a favourable outcome for Neil Harris’ side.
"I just can't see how they can allow Rotherham to keep the three points," he said.
Chapman, a senior parter of Full Contact Law, argued against a deduction for the Canaries when a bitter dispute broke out over their managerial appointment of Paul Lambert.
The East Anglia club were eventually made to pay £425,000 to the U's for Lambert's services – but Chapman convinced a panel not to dish out a harsher punishment.
Chapman, who is also a players' agent, has acted for Premier League clubs and Formula One teams in a wide range of legal matters, and has first-hand experience of Football League hearings.
As recently as this season, one of Chapman's clients, Mansfield's Reggie Lambe, was at the centre of an ineligible player charge.
He believes that is one precedent Rotherham may put forward in their defence.
"Reggie had signed a contract extension the day before his deal was due to expire but for some reason the club secretary didn't file it," Chapman explained.
"So when he played the following afternoon, technically he was an out-of-contract player. Mansfield were fined £6,000.
"If you're Rotherham, you're going to argue that the offence of playing Rawson was very similar – all of the parties wanted the loan to be extended, but there was a clerical error.
"However, Mansfield lost that game 3-2 and the result is a big factor.
"They will always look at whether there is a way of punishing the club without affecting the result, and in Mansfield's case they lost the game anyway."
Last season, AFC Wimbledon fell foul of the ineligible player rule and, having won the game in question, were docked three points.
But Chapman says the recent example of Nuneaton being hit with a points penalty in the Conference is even more "powerful".
"That happened two weeks ago," he said. "It hasn't got as much publicity because Nuneaton are in the Conference and they are going to be relegated anyway.
"But the facts are very similar with regards to it being an administrative error over a loan extension.
"This was a Conference ruling as opposed to a Football Disciplinary Commission, however, it's still a relevant precedent and the appeal route is exactly the same – you'd end up in the same courts.
"It would be fairly arrogant to say that a Conference club fielded an ineligible player, wins the game and is docked three points, but a Championship club isn't.
"There is no rationale to distinguish between Nuneaton and Rotherham."
That said, Chapman admits these cases are rarely black and white.
"It is true that there is no clear precedent," he said.
"Fans might wonder why Rotherham are employing one of the most expensive QCs in the land, and the reason for that is because the range of outcomes could go from a three-point deduction through to a small fine, with different variations in between.
"The powers of the commission are very general – under the relevant rules, they can impose sanctions as they see fit.
"The rules are broad and the decision that's made is also challengeable, so Rotherham have engaged Jim Sturman QC to make the panel think twice about their decision."
But given his intimate knowledge of the League's rules and these proceedings, Chapman believes Rotherham will be handed the most serious sanction.
He said: "If you're on the panel, you're thinking 'if I don't deduct points, then I've potentially got a legal challenge from one of the other teams that may get relegated, and if I do deduct them, Rotherham might appeal'.
"But I think the lesser of two evils is justifying why Rotherham have been docked points when there are clear precedents to follow.
"It ought to be a three-point deduction, it really should."
If the decision does not go in Millwall's favour, and the club is relegated at Rotherham's expense, Chapman says the Lions would have two options available to them.
"Millwall are a participant in the Football League and any participant has the ability to challenge a decision that's been made," he explained.
"But what would almost certainly happen very quickly is that the League would refuse to overturn their own decision, so Millwall would have to escalate it through the courts.
"It would probably end up in the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which would become quite a big deal.
"But Millwall could take a different view and not challenge it as a sporting sanction, but instead simply accept relegation and then sue for damages.
"This is what Sheffield United successfully did with regards to West Ham and Carlos Tevez."
What will happen at the hearing?
"THERE is a three-man panel and the chair of the panel will be a lawyer," says Dan Chapman.
"The two wing members will be appointed by Rotherham and the League. You are given a list of wing members and you can each pick one.
"The process of lining up a panel is what will have taken place over the first couple of days. The League will present their case, which will be the documents relating to the player in question.
"The League's case will be quite straightforward if there is an admission from Rotherham – the only question is what is the appropriate sanction?
"The League will argue for what sanction they feel is appropriate – taking into account precedent – and then Rotherham's lawyer, Jim Sturman QC, will argue for the sanction he feels is appropriate.
"The whole hearing would take less than half a day, but the panel would then adjourn to consider their decision.
"Normally they email their decision to the two lawyers representing the League and the club, with a press embargo on it for a certain period of time, and then it goes out into the public domain."
Who is Jim Sturman QC?
DESCRIBED as "a leader in his field", Jim Sturman QC, hired by Rotherham to make their case, has an impressive client list.
Sturman has carried out work for all of the following: Chelsea, Tottenham, West Ham, Newcastle, Wigan, Millwall, AFC Wimbledon, Norwich City, Brighton, Charlton Athletic, Arsenal, CSKA Moscow, Graeme le Saux, Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink, Frank Lampard, Kieron Dyer, Joe Cole, John Terry, Gus Poyet, Jose Mourinho, Marcel Desailly, Michael Essien, Mido, Robbie Savage, Emre Belozoglu, Jens Lehmann, Robbie Keane, Didier Zakora, Michael Ballack, Michael Dawson, Jermain Jenas and Didier Drogba.