Brentford v Rotherham United - Millers inspired by Barnsley’s ‘Great Escape’

SOME controversial events at Barnsley made it a fraught last weekend for Rotherham United manager Paul Warne.

Paul Warne: Players remain confident, he says. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

Fortunately, the feats of the Oakwell club at the end of last season provide rather more inspiration to him and his players.

As with the Millers today, Barnsley were in a parlous situation in the Championship relegation zone at the tailend of 2019-20 and adrift of safety after a similarly painful derby loss at a high-flying Yorkshire side in Leeds United.

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It followed on from a disappointing and seemingly season-defining run of results against several relegation rivals, akin to the Millers’ recent experiences.

Paul Warne at Oakwell on Saturday (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

Incredibly, the Reds produced the mother-of-all ‘Great Escape’ acts to deliver two dramatic stoppage-time wins to retain their second-tier status by the skin of their teeth, with the denouement arriving at Brentford.

Warne’s third-from-bottom side, four points behind the side just outside of the drop zone in Derby County with two games in hand, have slightly longer to save their campaign in the shape of four final matches.

A short distance from Brentford’s former Griffin Park home where Barnsley delivered an incredible drama to survive last term thanks to Clarke Oduor’s magical goal, Rotherham are seeking something special of their own at the Bees’ new home.

On taking solace from Barnsley’s feats last term, Warne said: “I spoke to the lads about it the other day. This time towards the end of last year, Barnsley were adrift.

Flashpoint: Carlton Morris collides with Viktor Johansson before heading in Barnsley's opening goal against Rotherham depriving the Millers of their keeper for tonight's game at Brentford (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

“Some teams are going to get out of it – a Sheffield Wednesday or if Derby win their last two. Someone has to and I said to the players: ‘why can’t it be you?’

“We do all the usual motivational things, but fundamentally, it comes down to the games now.

“Surprisingly, the lads feel really confident (after Saturday) and moreso, there’s a bit of a feeling like the world is against them.

“The sending-off of Crooksy (Matt Crooks) and for it not be rescinded did go through the team a little bit, I think. But then they feel like they were playing for him and playing against everything and then you get my goalkeeper being injured in the second minute (at Barnsley)...

“So the lads know what they are playing for. Some of them possibly won’t (also) get the opportunity of playing in the Championship again.

“We take a big towel with everyone’s families’ photos on for every away game and try and motivate in as many ways as we can.”

Goalkeeper Viktor Johansson – at the centre of huge controversy at the weekend when he was caught by the elbow of Barnsley forward Carlton Morris en route to him scoring the only goal at Oakwell – will miss out tonight due to concussion protocol.

Fears that the Swede fractured an eye socket in the incident have been allayed following a scan, but he will not be involved at Brentford. Jamal Blackman will make his first start since March 16.

Johansson could return for the weekend game with Blackburn.

Crooks serves the second game of a three-match ban, while Matt Olosunde could be back following illness. Clark Robertson remains sidelined.

Saturday’s loss was the latest blow to befall the Millers, who were hugely disappointed ahead of the game at Barnsley when it was confirmed that the decision to send Crooks off in last week’s match against Middlesbrough had been upheld after an appeal.

Given a exhaustive schedule over the past month – tonight’s match is their ninth in April and ninth in the space of just 26 days – it is no wonder that there is a collective feeling at Rotherham that they are ‘fighting against the world’ to retain their second-tier status as Warne has put it on several occasions.

Given all that, it will come as no surprise that Warne – whose squad has been significantly affected by Covid issues more than any other EFL club – acknowledges that the Millers staying up would represent the biggest achievement of his career.

The Millers chief and ex-fitness coach added: “I think so, definitely. I think I have had something like seven promotions and we have played in the Championship and managed to stay up.

“But it was a different sort of league then, in fairness. If we stayed up this year, considering everything, it would be.

“We have had the fixture pile-up and with the way we play with full energy, it has been a real drain. I feel a bit disappointed, although it was not anyone’s fault.

“But to go through two bouts of Covid and virtually have every member of staff and player at the club get it one way or the other has taken its toll as well.

“To come through all that in this league and stay up would be pretty mesmeric. I think I would have to ‘do a Pep’ (Guardiola) then and take a year off and travel the world and then come back and try and nick my job back!

“Being manager of a football club takes everything out of you, even moreso this year. If we were to survive, it would go down as my greatest achievement.”

The degree of difficulty is added to by facing a third-placed Brentford side who have won their last four matches against Rotherham, scoring 15 goals.

Last six games: Brentford DDWDDW; Rotherham DWLLLL.

Referee: M Salisbury (Lancashire).

Last time: Brentford 5 Rotherham 1, August 4, 2018; Championship.

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