Stuart Gray is hoping a few “home truths” to his Sheffield Wednesday team will help protect a proud derby record.
The Owls – currently carrying the burden of a nine-match winless streak – have lost just once in seven Yorkshire derby games since Gray took charge a year ago.
Only Doncaster Rovers managed to beat Wednesday (1-0 at the Keepmoat Stadium last season), with victories coming against Leeds United (6-0), Barnsley (1-0), Huddersfield Town (2-0), Middlesbrough (1-0 and 3-2), plus a 1-1 draw at Elland Road last month.
The Owls, though, were booed off the pitch in Tuesday’s 2-0 home loss to Bournemouth, prompting a dressing room inquest by head coach Gray.
With their last victory against Reading coming on September 20, Gray will be hoping to rekindle some of that derby magic today for the visit of neighbours Rotherham United.
“They have gone. I look forward now,” stressed Gray, when asked about his derby record. “It’s a new derby for me.
“We let ourselves down when we played Rotherham in the cup (last season, when Dave Jones was manager). It’s our patch. I’m delighted we are at home and I know I will definitely get a response from my players.
“Rotherham deserve to be in this league because they got promoted and did excellently.
“They will play to their strengths and fight and scrap and I need my players to fight and scrap. Hopefully, the bit of quality we have got in our side will come out on top.
“We are in the results business and our results are not good enough at the moment. Rotherham is a great game for us to stand up and be counted.
“I hope it is a big crowd and we give them something to cheer about. Rotherham are bringing a big following and you can’t beat a local derby. It’s the bragging rights at stake. We did it with Leeds and Huddersfield last season.
“I prepare my team the same for every game. It’s three points at stake. If I can get a performance as well as the result, I would be delighted, but I will take a scrappy 1-0 win.
“Rotherham have not had the best results with back-to-back defeats. Something has got to give on Saturday.
“They are a hard-working side who will close you down and get the ball forward. Credit to them for getting promotion. I have seen them a couple of times this season. They play to their strengths.
“They get the ball forward to Alex Revell and play from there. They will be in our faces, they will be competing. We need to win our one v one battles.
“We can’t sit off like we did against Bournemouth. We sat back and allowed them to play around us. If you let good players get their heads up, they will pick out the right pass and hurt you and that’s what Bournemouth did.
“We need to get back to the basics that have got us success.”
Gray held a lengthy meeting with his players in the dressing room after Tuesday’s poor display.
“It was an opportunity for them to have their say but I don’t want to be having those meetings regularly,” admitted Gray.
“It is probably one of the first since I have been in charge of the team.
“It was the manner of the performance that disappointed me. A few of the players sometimes need to be hit with a few home truths.
“We were very disappointed with our performance against Bournemouth. The most disappointing thing is the manner we got beat the other night.
“The players are chomping at the bit.
“It’s a great game for us to look forward to. We owe the fans a performance, we owe ourselves a performance.”
It is nearly 12 years since the South Yorkshire neighbours last met in the league.
Over the last decade, the two rivals have met three times in the league cup (2007, 2008, 2013), the Millers coming out on top twice.
The latest of those meetings was last season at the New York Stadium, when woeful Owls slumped to a 2-1 loss. Ben Pringle fired Rotherham in front, only for Rhys McCabe to equalise on 23 minutes.
But Lee Frecklington gave the Millers a deserved victory, with Jermaine Johnson sent off in the second half to rub salt into the Owls’ wounds.
Such is the turnover of players in modern-day football, just four Owls who started at the NYS are likely to play today: Jacques Maghoma, Jeremy Helan, Liam Palmer and Atdhe Nuhiu.
In comparison, six of the Millers’ starting XI last time out (their 3-0 loss at Reading on Tuesday) were in the Rotherham side that beat the Owls in August last year: Joe Skarz, Craig Morgan, Kari Arnason, Lee Frecklington, Pringle and Revell.
“Both clubs have come a long way from that game, to be honest, I think we are a better outfit now,” said Owls right-back Palmer.
“I am not really thinking too much about what happened then, but we do know we owe them one from that game.”
Scotland striker Stevie May – who came close to joining Rotherham in the summer – looks likely to be recalled today after shrugging off a virus, and hopes to add to his tally of three goals in 16 games.
“I know he can score goals,” said Gray.
“He will be disappointed because he knows he’s had opportunities in various games to get us the win. But I can’t fault his effort, commitment and work-rate and he will get better.”