IN hindsight, it was not the wisest move from Oxford United.
When you are due to play a side in Rotherham United who have lost just once on their travels in their previous seven League One matches – winning five of them – it is perhaps better to be humble in your utterances and courteous in your behaviour.
There’s so many games to go and we are playing for 57 points and I don’t get carried away with wins and I try and not get too down with defeats.Paul Warne
Paul Warne’s Millers arrived in the city of learning to find that they were locked out of Oxford’s Kassam Stadium ahead of Saturday’s game.
When they eventually got in, some boastful comments in the programme stating that the U’s were the best side in the division were duly noted by the ever-sharp Warne, who misses little.
It formed a handy team talk en route to giving a direct promotion rival the equivalent of a schooling in an outstanding 3-1 win.
The upshot is that Rotherham – a physically strong and organised team high on collectiveness, energy, endeavour and spirit at their best – find themselves in the automatic promotion positions.
For the second successive occasion in League One, the Millers are stocking up on winter fuel in their drive to return to the Championship.
A relentless 14-match unbeaten run from early December to early March – featuring 11 wins – transformed their 2017-18 season, one which ended in Wembley glory.
They still have some way to go to emulate those feats, but a run of seven victories in 11 league games is one which should be making their rivals sit up. Including Oxford.
Warne observed: “That was great. My team-talk was done and fired the lads up a treat.
“I would like to think it (a locked stadium) had not been done on purpose, but I used it in my team-talk that it had been. In fairness, I don’t think the players’ performance was due to a locked door. We had been planning it all week and working on it.
“There’s so many games to go and we are playing for 57 points and I don’t get carried away with wins and I try and not get too down with defeats.
“We have got to get the lads’ feet back on the ground and go again.
“We will keep rocking on and try and achieve something great for the town.”
The fact that the success over an Oxford side previously unbeaten on home soil in the league since August 20 followed victories over two other sides with clear ambitions in Blackpool and Peterborough United augurs particularly well.
As do handsome wins over the likes of Ipswich Town and Coventry City already this season which suggests that when the Millers are at their imposing, in-your-face best, not too many sides can live with them.
The trick is consistency. More especially at home, where Rotherham’s record remains modest by their own high standards.
On whether Oxford can prove a marker, captain Richard Wood said: “We have put ourselves in a great position and just need to keep it going and keep everyone fit and healthy and keep the momentum going.
“We have got to take confidence that we are top and we are a good side. We have not got to worry about other teams and play our game.
“When we do it like we did in the first half, we are more than a match for anybody.”
Saturday proved a special win in more ways than one.
It was emotionally driven by the return to the dug-out of assistant-manager Richard Barker, back on match-duty following the recent passing of his younger brother Chris, the former Barnsley player.
Warne commented: “The lads were really motivated to do well and they were motivated to do well for Richie.
“It is the first time I have seen my best friend cry at the end when the fans were singing his name. It was absolutely buzzing for him as it has been a tough few days for him.
“It was a little bit of sun on a dark few days for him.”