Rotherham United v Burton: Millers planning a special brew for survival

Danny Ward in action for Rotherham. (Picture: Chris Etchells)
Danny Ward in action for Rotherham. (Picture: Chris Etchells)
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MOMENTUM – that most priceless of footballing commodities has failed to befriend Rotherham United virtually all through a mournful 2016-17 season.

That is perhaps until now, but whisper it gently.

Millers caretaker boss Paul Warne

Millers caretaker boss Paul Warne

Two successive home wins might not exactly represent a jet-propelled thrust, but given the Millers’ Championship predicament, it indicates progress all the same as top-scorer Danny Ward and caretaker-manager Paul Warne are quick to point out.

Victories at the AESSEAL New York Stadium against Wigan Athletic and QPR during Warne’s interim tenure have ensured that the Millers’ survival hopes remain just about intact.

If they require further inspiration, it can be found around the festive season.

Aside from Neil Warnock’s captivating ‘Great Escape’ feats of last Spring, Millers fans with longer memories might also recollect their feats under Ronnie Moore in the early winter of 2003-04 when an unbeaten eight-match sequence incorporating six wins proved the major contributor to staying up come May.

The present-day Millers are still just about ‘in the game’ and their quest to embark on another safety mission will take another step forward should they dispose of Burton Albion this evening.

It would cut the gap between themselves and the fourth-from-bottom Brewers to a manageable six points.

It is a statistic that everyone connected with the club is acutely conscious of, according to Ward.

On the value of another Millers’ home win, leading marksman Ward acknowledged: “Things would suddenly look a lot better.

“It happened last season. We looked down and out at one stage but we won a couple of games, turned it around and got out of the position we were in. The three points (against Wigan) set us up nicely for Burton.

“The games are coming thick and fast and it is good to have some momentum to take into the next match.

“We have a good squad, so if changes need to be made we can make them without any worry really. We are looking forward to the game.”

Given the fact that the Millers had won just one game in 18 matches and were on a grim 14-match winless streak when Warne took caretaker charge following Kenny Jackett’s sudden departure on November 28, two wins from five games in December represents a healthier statistic.

The psychological effect has not been lost upon the Millers players and while they head into tonight’s encounter in renewed heart, the same cannot be said of opponents Burton, who were edged out late on at Villa Park on Boxing Day and who are still awaiting their first away success as a Championship club.

Warne, no doubt fully aware of the fact that fellow strugglers Blackburn and QPR also lost, along with Burton and Wigan, said: “If you win the games, then you are still in the laps of what has happened elsewhere. It is a double boost for us to win and the teams we are chasing not to win.

“It will help the players. They have been getting closer. To get back-to-back home wins is good and they will get a lot of pride from that.

“In breaking down the (Wigan) game and telling them how good they were, they will get even more confidence.”

After key home triumphs over QPR and another relegation-haunted side in Wigan, the Millers are eyeing the key scalp of another toiling side in Burton.

Victory over Wigan on Boxing Day may have been well received, but the main emotion at the end was a sense of sheer relief as the Millers held out after a fraught second-half when the Latics did their level best to cancel out the hosts’ 3-0 interval advantage.

In the final analysis, that will be forgotten with the fact that Rotherham clung on for a tense 3-2 triumph to take three badly-needed points being the only thing that truly mattered.

While Warne would take a repeat in the terms of the scoreline, he would ideally prefer a far less hazardous route this evening.

Warne added: “It seemed a different ending to QPR. When we beat QPR, the level of expectation was not there. Then, it was more of a level of romantic belief that it could be our day.

“On Monday, to be 3-0 up, it felt like a different ending. It felt like we had beaten the bad man and then all of a sudden another one came out of the bush somewhere.

“That is what it felt like; someone had a massive sword that I did not see coming. It was not a happy ending and I did not feel exhilarated at the final whistle. I felt exhausted.

“I was well proud of the lads and to get a win is a great feeling, but it was not enjoyable from where I was stood!”

Last six games: Rotherham LLWLLW; Burton DWLLLL.

Referee: T Harrington (Cleveland).

Last time: Rotherham 3 Burton 0, August 18, 2012; League Two.