A BOYHOOD Middlesbrough fan he may be, but do not expect Richie Smallwood to have any qualms about knocking Boro’s promotion bandwagon further off course on Saturday.
The workaholic Rotherham United midfielder, outstanding in the Bank Holiday Monday win over Brighton, is looking forward to a special afternoon on his first return to the Riverside Stadium since leaving Boro last August.
Teessiders remember their own and Smallwood, nicknamed the ‘Dormanstown Destroyer’ in homage to his combative qualities for his home-town club, can be sure of a warm reception back on familiar ground.
Smallwood, who made 43 starts before leaving for the Millers in a £175,000 deal, will certainly not be short of support, although there will be divided loyalties for a number of his friends and family, who are big Boro fans.
If a few are disappointed come 5pm, for Smallwood, it is a case of so be it for the engine-room grafter.
He said: “It will be a proud day for me and my family, but I have to put that aside for 90 minutes.
“I still know a lot of the players and coaching staff there and people behind the scenes.
“I know the younger ones such as Adam Reach and Ben Gibson and even a few of the older lads such as Leadbitter, Whitehead and Woodgate. I will be dropping a few texts I think.
“I am after a few complimentary tickets, so I will be making a few phone calls to get as many as I can!
“David Wheater had a good reception earlier in the season after going back with Bolton and, hopefully, I will have something similar to that and I will give the fans a clap.”
While a victory for the Millers would rubber-stamp Championship safety with four games left, with their priceless win over the Seagulls moving them away from the brink, Boro – who dropped to fourth place after being beaten 2-0 at Watford on Monday – have little margin for error.
Put simply, it is a must-win game for Boro, who host in-form Wolves on Tuesday and visit Norwich City a week tomorrow.
But if the Millers can secure a shock result, there will at least be one Teeesider with something to celebrate on Saturday night, with Smallwood adamant that staying up this season would eclipse the Wembley promotion highs of last May for the Millers.
He said: “If we can stay up this season, it will even top last season because of the difference in level and quality of opposition.
“It will be a really big achievement in one of the toughest leagues in the world.”
On Saturday’s game with Boro, who will be without suspended captain Grant Leadbitter, Smallwood added: “They are having a very good season and are on the verge of being promoted, but are definitely in the play-offs.
“It is one I will look forward to, although it will be a tough game.
“They have lost their last couple away at Watford and Bournemouth, but their home form speaks for itself. They have conceded something ridiculous like 11 goals and they are really solid.
“But with the high-tempo game we play, if we can get it right, then we can cause them problems if we defend well like we did against Brighton.
“That was a massive win for the whole town, players and management staff with five games to go. It has given everyone a big lift.
“Maybe one more win would just cement it. Hopefully, we will achieve that sooner rather than later.”