Bristol City v Rotherham United - Paul Warne preparing for ‘biggest month of the season’

FOR teams such as Rotherham United, backing up from midweek Championship games into the weekend is hard enough at the best of times.

When a number of your players are still boosting up fitness levels which have taken a hit due to the debilitating effects of Covid-19 – amid an outbreak that has ripped through the club’s players and staff – it is doubly difficult.

Thankfully, the Millers appear to be over the worst of it with only manager Paul Warne still self-isolating – he will watch the action from today’s game at home.

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The club’s training ground only re-opened on Monday after being closed for around 10 days and it was perhaps no surprise that the Millers toiled on their return to action against Watford on Tuesday evening.

Rotherham United manager Paul Warne.

Amid all the battles that Rotherham have faced in recent years, this Covid-related one has probably been the toughest, more especially for a squad whose fitness is one of their biggest assets.

Warne said: “Covid has been a massive problem. It hits the players in two ways. They are unable to train, and that is a big issue.

“No manager likes to go more than two days without seeing their players, never mind 10 days. Then, when they do come back after 10 days, it doesn’t mean they will feel amazing on day 11. Coming back into it is a physical shock for them.

“To put it into context, I run 10km or do other training virtually every day. During my own self-isolation, I walked two miles on the treadmill and it absolutely wiped me out. A 2km walk for me should be nothing.

“It is a big ask for the players to come back after 10 days of being ill and then play an elite-level football match. The fact that it hit so many of us made it an even bigger blow.

“The rustiness of the decision-making is what stands out when the lads first play again. The benefit of full-time training is that you are constantly telling them things so everyone stays on top of their jobs.

“We play a high-pressing game and we are an athletic team. Take a bit of athleticism out of us and we are going to be weaker.

“During the international break we have two weeks to prepare the lads for the biggest month of the season. That is all our focus is on.”

The Millers’ fates are likely to be decided during an April itinerary which is effectively a season within a season.

As schedules go, it will be as demanding as it gets, with the international break which follows today’s fixture at Ashton Gate representing the calm before the storm and invaluable preparation time before United return to action against Millwall on April 2.

At least, their fitness levels should be back to normal by then.

Warne added: “We had a really long pre-season and then we have had loads of stops and starts.

“Now we have more than a quarter of our season to play in little more than a month.

“That is going to be the most intense time ever.

“It will be tough for the players and I feel for my staff as well because I know how hard they work.

“We will be playing a game every two or three days.”

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