ROTHERHAM UNITED manager Steve Evans has warned Wembley-bound Sheffield United there will be nowhere to hide tonight as the Millers look to avoid a trip to the national stadium.
Evans’s side are currently six points off second-placed Brentford in League One after a 16-game unbeaten run. With just six matches remaining, they probably need to win at least five to put pressure on the Bees.
Two of those matches come in the space of three days against Yorkshire rivals, a trip to the Blades tonight being followed by Bradford City visiting the New York Stadium on Friday evening.
Maximum points from those two games and, whatever Brentford do against Crawley tonight, Rotherham – who are already guaranteed a play-off spot and a possible trip to Wembley next month – would be within three points of an automatic promotion spot.
While Evans has hailed the job Nigel Clough has done in reviving the Blades’ fortunes – they face Hull City in the FA Cup semi-finals on Sunday and are an outside bet to reach the play-offs after looking relegation certainties before Christmas – the uncompromising Millers chief is promising a “battle” tonight.
“We will wish United every success for Sunday, when we leave Bramall Lane. For South Yorkshire, what Nigel has achieved not only in league results, but in the FA Cup, has been nothing short of magnificent.
“But the same message will be if there’s players involved (tonight) who want to be in that Cup game on Sunday, then be prepared for a battle. It’s how we play, and we play the same way in every game. We will be in the trenches and try to win a football match.”
Clough says he will rest several players tonight, protecting them for Wembley, but Evans is somewhat sceptical.
“I won’t play the nonsense games of ‘we are going to leave players out’. We will try and play our strongest side,” said Evans, when queried whether Saturday’s hat-trick hero substitute Tom Hitchcock would start tonight.
“Nigel’s quite right to say he won’t risk anyone. But if I turn up (tonight) and they have eight changes, I am a Dutchman. That’s not going to happen.
“It would be absolutely brilliant if Nigel made 11 changes and put out a youth side, I could probably go get a pizza, come back and we would have three points.
“We know it’s going to be a tough night.
“Sheffield United fans are the same as Rotherham, they are very passionate about their club and will be right behind the team.
“We are looking forward to going to Bramall Lane. This is the ‘friendly derby’. When I first joined the Millers, our chairman Tony Stewart made it clear to me that both Sheffield clubs, United and Wednesday, had made a real effort in keeping this club alive.
“United gave us players – with no fee for playing – and over at Hillsborough they were taking bucket collections.”
While the Millers will finish highest of the county’s three League One teams – “we can go to sleep and still finish as top Yorkshire club”, joked Evans – they face a daunting fixture list.
After this week’s two derbies, they travel to champions-elect Wolverhampton on Good Friday, before finishing off against three play-off contenders in Port Vale, MK Dons and Swindon Town.
“We are not kidding ourselves, we have the toughest run-in,” said Evans. “Would it surpass my imagination if we won every game and took it to the end? Absolutely not.
“When you look at that run, Bramall Lane, Bradford City, Wolves, Port Vale, Mk Dons, it’s really tough. But if you’re a club in League One, do you look forward to playing Rotherham? I suggest not. We are in good shape. We don’t think the top two is done and dusted.”
Midfielder Lee Frecklington, is 50-50 to play after picking up a back injury.
Last six games: Sheffield United DLWLDD Rotherham WDWWWW.
Last time: Sheffield United 1 Rotherham United 0; February 26, 2005; Championship.
Referee: Michael Dean (Wirral).