Rotherham United v Coventry City - Millers braced for survival scrap

ROTHERHAM UNITED manager Paul Warne was a fitness fanatic in his playing days and that has not changed now that he finds himself in the dug-out.

Rotherham United manager Paul Warne. Photo: Alex Livesey/Getty Images

It is the same with Warne’s trusted assistant, ex-team-mate and another former Millers striker Richie Barker. It is just as well.

In their days as colleagues during a golden era for the club in the early Noughties, they were part of a group who prided themselves on their fitness, organisation and strong mentality as core strengths during Rotherham’s time in the second tier.

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It was a time when Rotherham had no natural advantages on their rivals in terms of financial resources and squad depth. They had to compensate in other ways.

Little has changed since. Just as those qualities served the Millers well in some halcyon days under Ronnie Moore and John Breckin, so those values must now come into their own at the pivotal point of the season for Warne and Barker’s class of 2020-21.

No-one needs to spell out the importance of tonight’s huge survival encounter with fourth-from bottom Coventry, managed by another one-time member of that feted Millers squad of two decades ago in Mark Robins.

Should the Millers win their second home game in 48 hours following on from Tuesday’s precious come-from-behind victory over QPR, they will move out of the relegation zone.

One cursory glance at the table shows that this game needs no selling. Warne said: “If I managed the youth team, with all due respect, I think I would have to calm them down. But my players are all professionals and they get it and they know the importance of the Coventry game.

“In a weird way, it is more having to calm them down than ‘revving’ them up. I thought in the first half against QPR, we were too keen to win a little bit.

“As we sit here now, the Coventry game is a massive game. The players were celebrating in the dressing room [on Tuesday night] and I had never seen them so happy. It was more like a play-off game than a league game.”

Tonight’s game is the penultimate fixture in a run of four matches in eight days, which culminates in Sunday’s home appointment with Birmingham.

It is a ‘week of death’ as Warne has infamously called it.

With a sense of pride, Warne has regularly stated that his side are one of the fittest in the division. It is what you would expect from someone who loves pre-season more than any other time of the year.

Equally, mental freshness is just as key and this is a group who have played ‘survival football’ from minute one of this season. As have Coventry, to be fair.

Warne added: “When it comes to games coming this thick and fast and the summer being this close, it is a mental as much as a physical thing.

“We annihilated the lads in pre-season and even if they play every other day for the next week, it is still easier than pre-season.

“We will get them to eat, sleep and have massage therapy as best we can and hope their natural adrenalin and aggression to win football matches kicks in when it matters.”

Warne’s players may be supremely fit, but rotation – and full usage of the five-substitution rule – will come into play this evening.

Ahead of the game, the Millers also have an issue regarding Freddie Ladapo – fresh from his two-goal haul against QPR. The striker has a groin niggle, while centre-half Michael Ihiekwe is a doubt.

Warne – who made three substitutions just before the hour mark on Tuesday in bringing on Lewis Wing, Michael Smith and Jamie Lindsay to telling effect as the hosts recovered from a 1-0 deficit to triumph 3-1 – said: “I pulled Wingy, Jamie Lindsay and Smudge [Smith] – who virtually play every minute when they can stand and chew gym at the same time – out of the team.

“But they understand in the same way as if I take three or four [others] out for Thursday night. It is just how it is. They politely agree with me, but behind my back, they probably are thinking ‘I can definitely play’.

“I have one player who is convinced he can play four 90 minutes [in a row]. I joked about it and said ‘I think I can run a marathon, but if you asked me after 22 miles, I’d probably say no chance’. It is a balancing act to get the best players on the pitch and best team you can have.

“Tuesday was one of the hardest games I have ever had to pick as the Thursday game was like the ‘elephant in the room’ and you know how important it is.

“With the games in quick succession, we must have an understanding and the lads have to buy into the fact that it is not about them.

“Most professional sportsmen are narcissists but, in a team environment, you must have a team ethos that the club comes first.”

Last six games: Rotherham LWLLDW; Coventry WLDLWL.

Referee: J Gillett (Australia).

Last time: Rotherham 4 Coventry 0, October 5, 2019; League One.

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