I’d rather struggle here than two tiers below us

Rotherham United manager Steve Evans (Picture: Steve Ellis).
Rotherham United manager Steve Evans (Picture: Steve Ellis).
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With the year drawing to an end, manager Steve Evans can be forgiven for reflecting on just how far Rotherham United have travelled in a momentous ride in 2014.

An icy blast of reality – and it is nothing to do with falling temperatures this week – may have provided a chill for the Millers in the shape of a seven-match winless streak in the Championship going into tomorrow’s trip to Cardiff City.

But Evans is maintaining a sense of perspective.

After back-to-back promotions and a medley of magic moments and games to savour against the likes of Leeds United, Sheffield United, Sheffield Wednesday and Preston North End – not forgetting Wembley – both 2013 and 2014 can be rightly viewed as years paved with gold for Millers followers.

Appetites are never quite sated, though, and plenty want more when it comes to footballing success, which is an addictive drug once you have sampled it. But sometimes you require an antidote.

Two years ago, the Millers were fourth in League Two. Last year, they were sixth in League One, and now they find themselves in 21st place in the Championship with 19 points after 19 games.

This, incidentally, is the same tally they had after an identical amount of matches during their first season in the second tier under Ronnie Moore in 2000-01, a campaign when the Millers stayed up – albeit only just.

Evans said: “It is tough in the Championship, but I would rather Rotherham were having it tough in the Championship than having it very tough in League Two prior to me walking in.

“Two years ago, we were playing the likes of Gillingham, AFC Wimbledon and Accrington Stanley. Compare that to Cardiff, (Nottingham) Forest and the likes of Wigan this month.

“We have gone up to a tough league. I have watched games in League One this week and the gulf is very evident when you watch games in the Championship and League One.

“When you make that huge progress, there are going to have to be times when you find things difficult.

“Look at the (new) clubs who make progress to the Champions League; they get knocked out. Look at clubs like Leicester and Burnley, who absolutely blitzed the Championship last year.

“We have had a good spell and now we are having a tough one. It is what the Championship is all about and is so condensed and tight. We are relishing every minute of it, I can tell you.”

Even accounting for the Millers’ captivating campaigns of 2012-13 and 2013-14 and the champagne highs, it was arguably moments when their character was questioned and they came out on the right side which made it all the sweeter.

Often for managers, it is the journey you remember as opposed to the success.

A humbling 4-0 home loss to Swindon came in the middle of a league run of one win in eight last autumn while in the first half of 2012-13 humiliating 6-2 and 5-0 defeats to Port Vale and Dagenham & Redbridge were endured.

Fans stuck with the Millers then as they are doing now – well apart from the odd one, at any rate.

Evans added: “The bulk of fans know. They have been fantastic in their support.

“Our worst performance in two and a half years was against Birmingham two weeks ago, and I cannot remember any bad things happening from supporters.

“From that point of view, they understand what we are about. But I heard the local radio phone-in this week when a Millers fan phoned and had a little moan about Saturday’s draw against Blackpool.

“Of all people to then phone in was a Sheffield Wednesday fan, saying, ‘Are they serious, given how far they have come in the past two years?’ Sometimes, in a light-hearted moment from over the M1, a Sheffield Wednesday fan brings it into perspective that we have made huge progress.

“Every time you go into a football season there will always be peaks and troughs. In the eight or nine promotions I have had in 12 years or whatever it is, there has always been times in the season when it has been tough.

“Either not getting results or you have been getting results and not playing well. Our performance against Blackpool deserved three points.

“It probably deserved six, but you can only get three – and we came out of it with one. But the display takes us down to Cardiff with real hope.”

Evans admits there remains a chance that loan striker Luciano Becchio could yet return before the end of his contracted loan spell in early January, with the Norwich forward making progress in his rehabilitation after returning to Norfolk for treatment to a heel injury in October.

On the prospects of the ex-Leeds striker donning the Rotherham jersey again, Evans said: “Perhaps. He is contractually with us, I think, until the first week in January.

“We will speak first to the medical team at Norwich to see whether they are giving him the green light and, if they are, I can assure people he will be back.”