Rotherham United v Derby County: Neil Warnock delighted to be punching above his weight with Millers

FIRE STILL BURNING: Rotherham United manager Neil Warnock, right, and assistant Kevin Blackwell show their emotions during the victory over Middlesbrough. Picture: Nigel French/PA.
FIRE STILL BURNING: Rotherham United manager Neil Warnock, right, and assistant Kevin Blackwell show their emotions during the victory over Middlesbrough. Picture: Nigel French/PA.
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MANY would assume that winning in front of adoring throngs of fans is far removed from performing that feat amid the muck-and-nettles of grassroots football watched by the equivalent of one man and his dog.

But for Neil Warnock whether it is orchestrating victories for Todwick – the first side he managed in the mid-70s – or knocking expensively-assembled Championship heavyweights Sheffield Wednesday and Middlesbrough off their perch, a dual feat he has just presided over, the feeling is just as sweet.

The Championship’s alluring quality as being one of the genuinely meritocratic competitions in world football was further enhanced – if anyone needed reminding – in midweek.

It was headlined by Rotherham United’s fine success over promotion-chasing Boro on a night when only one side in the top 10 won in a division where money is not an instant ticket to success.

It is that very fact why Warnock loves the Championship so much. A pure competition where esprit de corps, togetherness, organisation, bravery and heart still has its place.

Both the Owls and Boro have spent millions of pounds in their pursuit of success this season, as have the Millers’ opponents today in Derby County.

Not many will be shelling out their hard-earned money with total conviction on the outcome of today’s game.

Warnock, seeking to become the first Millers manager since the late Emlyn Hughes to record four straight wins at this level this afternoon – a feat previously last achieved in the Spring of 1982 – said: “I have asked everyone to lift their own level and I think, to a man, they have done so here.

“I think some of them can’t believe how well they are playing and how much they are putting into the game and it just shows you it’s mind over matter.

“Money doesn’t make it easier for managers. Whereas here, money is not an issue really, with all decent lads on average money for the league. You don’t get the type of characters and personalities you have to deal with (elsewhere) and that suits me really.

“It reminds me of when I did the Sunday league at Todwick. I felt the same with those type of lads who worked all week and then came in for me.

“I demanded certain things and they gave it me and I was just as excited as winning games at that level than I am now.”

Speaking of rewinds, there is a definite back to the future element in the present-day guise of Warnock’s Millers, whose footballing DNA is similar to that of Ronnie Moore’s revered side of the early noughties who punched above their weight – and upset many well-heeled outfits.

Up next are a side who have invested with considerable largesse in Derby, who would be well minded to heed the lessons of the Owls and Boro.

Warnock, whose feats in claiming a famous win at Hillsborough earned him the League Managers Association’s ‘Performance of the Week’ accolade, added: “I think they (Derby) have got the best (Championship) squad by a mile on the financial side of it.

“The owner has really had a go and the money he has spent is phenomenal at this level and it shows what we are up against but we are on a level-par when we kick off.

“It’s a tremendous achievement for a club like Rotherham to be competing against such as Derby County, Middlesbrough and Shefield Wednesday and I suppose the underdog role suits me as well. And the lads are enjoying it.

“I love the Championship, it’s my cup of tea with the excitement. With this week, I couldn’t have asked for any more really, it’s a fantastic achievement by everybody to win three games.

“It is not a league where money gets you promotion. It’s about getting that dressing room and every cog right.

“The spirit is the main thing and then you have got to have ability and a way of winning games.”

He may be having a ball, but in regarding his longer-term future, Warnock is decidedly non-committal due to his family home being in Cornwall and other circumstances.

It is perhaps best not to complicate things and enjoy the ride here and now.

Warnock said: “I do get tired a lot and the travelling is a long way, as you can imagine. The chairman has accepted that I have to do certain things in the week. I have to slow down a little bit.

“My wife is happy with it at the moment. Sharon is quite pleased about me being out of her feet. But, at the moment, I don’t look beyond the 10 games. It’s a fantastic challenge.”