Manager Steve Evans wants to make Rotherham United a competitive side in the Championship. Leon Wobschall reports.
STEVE EVANS may have provided plenty of mirth when he fulfilled his pledge to wear beach attire to celebrate Rotherham United’s safety at the end of last season – but he has no intentions of performing a repeat.
It is nothing to do with his desire to avoid the embarrassment of wearing a sombrero and garish Hawaiian shorts again either.
Instead, it is everything to do with his desire for the Millers to become an established Championship side who don’t endure a perennial white-knuckle ride scrapping for their second-tier lives every late April and early May.
The scenes on the AESSEAL New York Stadium pitch and in the stands following the final whistle on April 28 when Evans’s side beat Reading 2-1 to secure their Championship status was akin to a mass outpouring of joyous relief among Millers players, management and supporters.
The celebrations were given plenty of piquancy by the Farrend Rawson affair and the blow of four days earlier when Rotherham were docked three points for fielding the ineligible Derby County loan defender – which put their survival on a knife-edge with three matches to go.
For the third successive season under Evans, an end-of-season party ensued, this time a survival one following the promotion shindigs of 2012-13 and 2013-14.
You sense that this time around, an understated raising of glasses at a job well done next spring would suffice for most, with the Millers intent on moving on from merely celebrating their Championship status.
Evans, whose three full seasons in charge can best be described in one word, tumultuous, said: “The chairman, every day, says we have had three years of great success. But it is what is going to happen in the next three years which he is thinking about now.
“Not what has happened in the past three years. That has been achieved now.
“I am very fortunate. I am manager of a great club in exciting times and am not worried about whether players get paid at the end of the month.
“We are not worried about debts or what the bank is saying, but building on what has been a great three years.
“We don’t want to be playing again in the final two home games of the season having to get a result before the last day of the season to make sure we are still in the Championship.
“Although if we had not got the three points not taken off, we would have been safe earlier and I would have been able to wear a sombrero and shorts against Reading...”
If the Millers need any inspiration, they could do worse than rewinding the clock back to the club’s second season at this level back in 2002-03, fresh from securing their divisional status by the skin of their teeth the previous campaign.
That 2002-03 season saw Rotherham, under Ronnie Moore, finish a creditable 15th, although that did not tell the whole story with the Millers flirting with the play-offs in late winter.
What the club did do is claim plenty of respect at Championship level and not just be bracketed as survival scrappers, with the present-day Millers blessed with many more advantages in terms of facilities and resources than those days in the first half of the noughties.
The Millers’ achievements under Moore in those years are something that are not lost upon Evans, whose sights are set on the club becoming a fully-established Championship side for a good number of years to come – to significantly outlast the four seasons that the Millers enjoyed at this level from 2001-2005 in the process.
And he has cited the example of Swansea’s consolidation in the top-flight, despite competing with a plethora of bigger clubs, as something to emulate, albeit at a level below.
In terms of summer signings, the Millers have gone for proven Championship operators, in the likes of Chris Maguire and Greg Halford, two players who were on the wanted lists of other second-tier clubs, with other experienced signings such as Danny Collins, Lewis Buxton and Emmanuel Ledesma also boosting their numbers.
In comparison to the recruitment during last summer, the Millers’ manoeuvres have been somewhat more structured, with the club having been prepared to bide their time in the market in their quest to land players of requisite quality at this level.
That is all part of the learning process at Championship level and something the Millers hierarchy would no doubt concur with.
Evans said: “I think we need to establish ourselves, as people look at us, as a Swansea of the Championship.
“They are mid-table in the Premiership and can they kick on? I think they can.
“It will be a question of whether they can get those one or two signings who make the difference.
“I think we now need to become a Championship club that people see as a solid, settled second-tier club. Not necessarily the biggest.
“Do you want to be the biggest? I’m not sure that you always want to be the biggest.
“But you want to be the best at what you can do. I think if we can become a solid, mid-table Championship side being able to cast an eye towards that play-off pack, then that would be a remarkable success.”