TONY STEWART insists Rotherham United will not be fazed by the plethora of big names they will face in the Championship, with an illustrious one in Derby County first up this afternoon.
The Millers will play their first second-tier fixture since May, 2005 in front of a packed crowd at the iPro Stadium, a ground where they have lost on all of their three previous visits.
But hope is burning brightly among the visitors, who may care to recollect upon how-neighbours Doncaster Rovers triumphed in their first game in the Championship for half-a-century in a 1-0 win there on the opening day of the 2008-09 campaign.
Steve Evans’s side face tough tests on paper against the likes of the Rams, Wolves and Watford in their opening to the season but it is a prospect they are relishing, according to the man responsible for their revival, Stewart, who is hoping United can catch a number of established teams cold.
He said: “All I can say is we will be prepared and give it our best shot. I have said to Steve that, hopefully, some of these teams will still have sand in their shoes!
“I think after six or 10 games, we will see how we are performing and by Christmas, we should know where we sit, having played everyone once.
“Obviously, it’s a challenge. The Championship is full of former Premier League sides and we know there is some talent there and you only have to mention teams like Derby, Leeds, Birmingham and Norwich.
“But we are looking forward to it. We recently had a friendly game with Nottingham Forest and I know it was a friendly, but their side was supposed to be first-teamers and while we saw a few of the 11 players for the first time who have come in here, it seemed like that they have been with us for a long time.
“We were the better side and the players were ‘at it’ and the tempo was pretty much like last season and there was that drive and determination.”
The Rams head into the season as one of the favourites for promotion after losing out in the play-off final in the Spring, not that manager Steve McClaren is expecting anything less than an arduous opening-day examination.
Former England manager McClaren, who has just signed a new three-year contract, said: “Going into the first game is like entering the unknown.
“The game against Rotherham is a big test for us. They have done brilliantly. Steve Evans has done a great job up there.”