THE Championship season may still be in its infancy, but it is not lost upon many at Rotherham United that they have five fewer points than they had mustered this time 12 months ago.
That was a campaign when the Millers avoided relegation with not too much to spare.
Four league matches have so far yielded a solitary point, in comparison to 2014-15, when the Millers won two of their opening quartet of Championship appointments.
In that context, no-one needs telling twice about the importance of Saturday’s game with Fulham for several reasons, according to midfielder Paul Green.
Win and the Millers end a testing opening three weeks of the campaign before the fortnight-long international hiatus with a timely boost.
Lose and there is likely to be plenty of soul-searching, even with the season not yet a month old with Green not shying away from the magnitude of the game.
You suspect Millers manager Steve Evans and everyone connected with the club would gladly take an ugly 1-0 win against the Cottagers given that they face back-to-back away assignments to start September at Charlton and Brighton.
There is also the X-factor to consider with Saturday marking the first return of Ben Pringle to the New York Stadium after his summer move with Green and company eager to ensure that his day is not too enjoyable.
On whether the game can be bracketed as a ‘massive one’, even this early in the campaign, Green said: “Definitely. Going into the international break, you want to go in there on the back of a win as there is not a game for two weeks and you are dwelling on that (result).
“We have not started as well as we thought we would and there are some disappointed lads in there.
“But we have got strong characters who will get us through and, hopefully, we will get a good result against Fulham.
“Prings will get a good reception with what he has done for the club through the leagues.
“It will be nice for him to come back here, but, hopefully, the result will go against him.”
Winning ugly has its place, but equally there is a well-known school of thought in football that also decrees performances eventually yield results.
By that token, perhaps a first league win for Rotherham is not too far around the corner.
The Millers have deserved better in losses at Nottingham Forest and QPR, as they did in Tuesday’s unfortunate Capital One Cup exit to Norwich City when they came up against an inspired goalkeeping display from Declan Rudd.
Rudd was beaten just once in his side’s 2-1 win, by a stinging late volley from substitute Green, who was enthused by the number of the chances that the hosts created.
The experienced campaigner said: “I don’t think we have created as many chances in a game as that for a long time.
“That was the big thing. There were some really clear-cut chances.
“We are getting in those positions and now have just got to take them.
“I am sure we will be working on a few things in training for Saturday and looking at the goals we’ve conceded and, hopefully, tighten up.
“There were some positives to take, but we have conceded two goals and we need to cut those goals out and, hopefully, we will be fine.”
Green’s strike was not the only thing that will have left Millers supporters enthused on Tuesday night.
A vibrant display from 21-year-old striker Jonson-Clarke Harris backed up his positive weekend performance at Loftus Road and, importantly, proved it was no flash in the pan.
The decision to take Kelle Roos out of the firing line and throw in Adam Collin for his first start in goal this season was also largely vindicated with the Cumbrian certainly doing nothing wrong to underline his claims.
Yet both have been left in no doubt by their manager that they have plenty more to do to re-establish themselves as regular first-teamers.
Evans said: “Jonson was great again, despite being tired as you would expect for a young man who has played 90 minutes at the weekend.
“I like Jonson as a player but I have reminded him that if he drops it, he is out.
“But playing like that he is a top player in the Championship.
“Since we had a chat 10 days ago where he came in the office and had a cup of tea and a digestive, he made it clear that we were going to see a Jonson Clarke-Harris that wanted to earn the right to be here because he was on his way out.”
And on Collin, he said: “I thought Adam did well.
“People think that because he is out of the team, we don’t love the boy to bits. But he is a big reason why we are in the Championship.
“But you have to play like a Championship player if you want to play for Rotherham.”