STEVE EVANS has labelled Rotherham United’s home derby with Leeds United on Friday evening as the biggest league game he has been involved in as a manager.
The Scot will lead out the Millers in front of a sell-out New York Stadium crowd when they host their Yorkshire rivals in the league for the first time since November 2004.
Victory for Evans’s 17th-placed side would see them draw level on points with Leeds in the Championship and while the 51-year-old has already presided over many blue riband matches in his managerial career, on a league level at least, Friday’s clash represents the pinnacle.
Evans also believes the televised game is the biggest league showpiece in the short history of the Millers’ £20m stadium, which opened in July 2012, and insists his side will have to be at their “very best” to give themselves a chance of getting a positive result.
Evans, who took over as Millers manager in April 2012, said: “Friday is a fantastic occasion for everyone at Rotherham United. I have never hidden my admiration for Leeds United at any time in my life and career.
“I have been fortunate enough to lead a team (Crawley) out at Manchester United in the FA Cup.
“But in respect of a league game on a level footing where the prize for both is three points, this is as high as it has been so far.
“The Aldershot and Preston games had prizes when we played them at the New York Stadium. But the Leeds United game is not just a prize, but an occasion.
“In terms of league games, it is the biggest when you look how far we have come. I suppose local-wise we are four or five miles from Hillsborough and we played Sheffield Wednesday in the Capital Cup last year, but in terms of the league games, this is the biggest there has been.
“For us, we are near the top end of our cycle in our history. But there’s a real determination to take that further.
“Whether we can take that further remains to be seen. But we are extremely proud hosting a club like Leeds United after hosting Blackburn Rovers in our last home match.
“It may be a lot of years since they won the Premiership, but I felt Blackburn were the biggest club we have hosted in the history of the new stadium in our last home game.
“I think Leeds United surpass that with their history of being former English champions and successful European campaigns.
“With their tradition and pure size, I think this is easily for me the highest-profile opposition to come here. To be on a level playing field and not to welcome Leeds United in a cup tie adds an extra bouquet for us.”
Despite Leeds’s mixed start to the Championship campaign, Evans – whose side head into the game on the back of impressive results against Norwich City and Blackburn – feels the Millers will have to excel to secure a result against Darko Milanic’s side.
Evans said: “On the pitch, the game speaks for itself. They have added a lot of quality and we will have to be at our very best.
“The vocal support the Leeds fans give their team doesn’t need any introduction and we need to be able to match that off the pitch.
“Leeds are full of very talented players and they have taken a new manager who has a very respected track record and that seems to be forgotten until you check his stats out.
“You can only win championships and cups if you are in them.
“We have seen some clips of them being average, but also ones where they have been outstanding in certain passages of play.
“In some of those against Sheffield Wednesday, they were by far the better team.”
Evans has spoken previously of his respect for Leeds and admits he still cannot comprehend why ex-Millers favourite Kieran Agard rejected the Elland Road outfit to join League One side Bristol City in an £800,000 deal in August.
He said: “I can remember speaking to a well-known manager in the Championship. I was talking to him about a separate matter and he raised the point about Kieran Agard turning down Leeds United to go to Bristol City. He said, ‘Steve, I cannot believe your lad has turned down Leeds United’.
“They may have a few issues at the minute, but we are talking Leeds United and when he said that, it endorsed my view.”
The Millers manager has revealed that former Whites striker Luciano Becchio is gutted to miss out on a reunion with his former club on Friday due to injury, with the Argentinian forward receiving treatment back at parent club Norwich City after fracturing his heel late last week.
While Becchio is sidelined, three other players with Leeds connections are hoping to feature against their former club on Friday in Rotherham-born full-back Frazer Richardson, who started his career at United, Paul Green and Ryan Hall.
But their former allegiance with Leeds will firmly be put to one side once the whistle blows for kick-off at the New York Stadium on Friday night.
Evans said: “I know how much Luciano loves Leeds United and he’s told me that and he really wanted to play.
“But we have other players who would say Leeds United are their first club.
“But they have to forget it when they see those white shirts in the tunnel.”