The barometer of Rotherham United’s meteoric rise under the stewardship of Steve Evans can be measured on their Boxing Day timeline.
Two years ago, the Millers lost 2-1 at home to Port Vale in English football’s fourth tier.
Then, 12 months ago, Rotherham sat sixth in League One – eight points off leaders Gillingham – following a 1-0 win away at Bradford City.
Now, after back-to-back promotions, the Millers welcome Huddersfield Town to a sell-out New York Stadium for a Championship fixture which was only a dream two short years previously.
“It has been immense hasn’t it?” reflected Evans. “When we sat last Christmas, I don’t know where we were, fifth or sixth in League One, and if you’d have said one year on we’d be playing against Huddersfield Town on Boxing Day in the Championship you would have grabbed it.
“2014 and 2013 were both wonderful years for me personally and for the football club and for the town football-wise.
“When Adam Collin makes that save (in last year’s play-off final win) it’s a realisation of something I told the chairman I could do.
“Not many people would have been as bold to sit in front of Tony Stewart two years ago and tell him ‘I’ll put you in the Championship’ in two years.
“But what comes with that is pressure and what you have to do with that then is deal with that pressure. What we managed to do was accrue some good players to help us get there.”
Today will be a game to celebrate United’s rapid ascent, but Evans is also keen to embrace a Yorkshire derby which is vital for both sides as they look to pull away from the bottom six in the Championship. Rotherham and Town both have 24 points from 22 games, five points clear of the relegation zone.
“These are wonderful occasions and we should never forget to embrace them,” Evans told The Yorkshire Post. “I don’t need to repeat the names of the clubs we played in League Two or League One in Decembers gone.
“But look at this December, Cardiff City, Nottingham Forest, Wigan Athletic, Huddersfield Town. It’s fantastic.
“We are very fortunate at the New York. In more home games than not we have a full house, and passionate supporters who are desperate for their team to be a part of the Championship going forward.”
What Millers fans are witnessing on the pitch in a four-match unbeaten run is some free-slowing football, and it is no accident that has coincided with the arrival of loan players Scott Wootton, Reece James, Emmanuel Ledesma and Tom Lawrence.
Evans is keen to extend the loan deals and expects to do business when the transfer window re-opens next week.
“We will make some things happen in January, that’s for sure,” stressed the Scotsman. “Talks with the loan boys’ clubs have gone as well as we want them to at this stage, but they are going to make their decisions nearer the end of their player’s loan periods, which we respect, but there are other players on our radar.
“I know they would love to stay, they don’t just tell me, they tell the players, they tell each other.
“They come in and want to play, no-one wants to play reserve-team football or Under-21 games and, if you’re good enough, you want to play in front of a crowd where three points is the meaning of it all.
“Each one of these young players has come in and embraced it. But if they don’t work out, don’t think we’ve only got those. If those four go back, there will be other opportunities to bring in players with the same characteristics and style.”
The Millers have a good home record in Yorkshire derbies, last season beating big city neighbours Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United, plus Bradford City.
This season, goals from Alex Revell and Johnson Clarke-Harris helped Rotherham beat Leeds United 2-1, and they gained a 0-0 draw at Hillsborough.
But Evans believes today will be a tough challenge against Chris Powell’s Huddersfield, and a striker he rates very highly, Grant Holt.
“The management selection of bringing in Chris Powell was a shrewd choice,” said Evans. “Like ourselves, they have a fantastic chairman in Dean Hoyle, largely one man who attributes to their success or failures because he funds it. Chris Powell has come in, he has added one or two loan players, but in the main he has what Mark Robins had.
“But one of his most effective signings has been Grant Holt, who leads by example.
“There will be no secrets to how they play, 4-5-1 out of possession, 4-3-3 when they are attacking you. And the one thing Huddersfield have got is very good players, a very experienced manager and back-room team as well.
“I like Jacob Butterfield. I think Sean Scannell has a new lease of life under Powell. He was a name that I was told was perhaps going to be available, but Powell has arrived and, wow, Sean Scannell has became the player we saw a couple of seasons ago in pre-season when he tore us apart for spells.
“They have Nahki Wells, who came from Bradford, who we have always admired. Real leaders at the heart of defence, different options.”