2018-19 season preview: Rotherham United plan to turn back the clock

Winners: Rotherham United's Richard Wood, Joe Mattock and Semi Ajayi celebrate after the final whistle at Wembley.
Winners: Rotherham United's Richard Wood, Joe Mattock and Semi Ajayi celebrate after the final whistle at Wembley.
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FOR those Rotherham United players who stride out at the likes of Villa Park, Hillsborough, Elland Road and The Hawthorns in the weeks and months ahead, the gaze will be certain and the handshakes hearty.

The club may not be rich in the terms of finances to enable them to compete with the vast majority of their Championship rivals, but the Millers are abundant with other qualities which should not be under-estimated and can serve clubs well in the unforgiving Championship marathon.

Genuine comradeship, unstinting commitment and an ability to watch each other’s backs to name but three. A side wholly comfortable in their own skin and no respecter of reputations.

Such qualities have previously showcased Rotherham United at their best. Whether it be in last season’s heroic comeback campaign, the Neil Warnock-inspired Great Escape of 2015-16 or those glory days of the late Nineties and early Noughties under Ronnie Moore; which current manager Paul Warne has cause to remember fondly.

Warne’s current Millers squad are cut from the same cloth. The sort who it is dangerous to write off; even if many bookmakers have them down as firm relegation favourites following their quickfire Championship return after their descent in 2016-17.

Warne told The Yorkshire Post: “I like to think that whenever the lads are in the tunnel this year, they will have a smile on their face and think: ‘right, here we go; let’s see what we have got.’

“If they win a football match, brilliant. But if they have given their all and been beaten by better players, then what can you say?

“I am really pleased with the group. I am not saying by any stretch of the imagination that we are the strongest group in the league. But I think they are all proud to play for the club, which is pretty crucial, and they represent all the staff when they play.

“I don’t think many teams will look at us and think: ‘Yippee, we have got Rotherham on Saturday.’ There will be pressure on them to beat us and we will go into most games as underdogs, which I am more than happy with. I have had a career of being an underdog at this club.

“I am not saying we are on a crest of a wave as that is going too far. But some clubs are on a bit of a slump and some players are running their contracts out on big money and the clubs cannot get rid of them. They might not have the same atmosphere as us.

“We have no big-timers in the dressing room and no-one who thinks they have a deserved right to play. I have spoken to them a lot of times and if they do not play and sulk, they are finished with me. I cannot have sulkers at all.

“I gave a speech to them about my father, whom I speak to them quite a lot about. He is not well, but he drives down and watches his friends play bowls, even though he cannot play. He is on oxygen all the time, bless him.

“Without being too depressing, I say to the players: ‘Eventually, you might be like that and you cannot play sport and football any more, so you have got to enjoy it’.”

If the Millers need any contemporary inspiration, it is not too hard to find either.

This time last season, a side whose credentials were similarly written off in Millwall made a mockery of the pre-season naysayers to enjoy a stunning campaign.

Despite narrowly missing out on the play-offs, their splendid eighth-placed finish was a celebration of just how far organisation, togetherness and belief can take you in the Championship.

It was a victory for not just Millwall, but all those second-tier sides not blessed with the deep pockets of their cash-rich rivals.

“Millwall did really well and their home form was really good and they were hard to play against and they all knew their jobs. That is a pretty good blueprint,” Warne observed.

“It is crucial we get off to a good start. I spoke to another manager about his first four games in the Championship and there never looks an easy month. Whatever month you look at, it all looks the same. But every club has the same insecurities as me possibly.

“If we could emulate Millwall’s season, then wow, I would be very happy. I know there will be tough games, but we will have a right go.”

The Millers’ successful second-tier history of yore have also been drawn upon by Warne.

The presence of himself and coaching staff members Richie Barker and Mike Pollitt also provides an obvious link with some memorable Championship days of the past and also the presence of club ambassador John Breckin.

Warne said: “In Austria, we were trying to show the players the three best teams in the last 30 years that this club have had.

“Breck played in one – and the lads laughed heartily when they saw his photo. And obviously, me, Rich and Polly played in the other two.

“I think a lot of our best teams have been with players who have been here for a bit of time and where there have been good partnerships across the team.

“We just want to get a group who win together, lose together and live together and hopefully put on performances that make Rotherham fans proud.”