Rotherham United v Gillingham: Winning matters - but not the winning sequence says Paul Warne

Normal journalistic practice dictates this article should refer to how Rotherham United are looking to extend their unbeaten run to 20 games in all competitions against Steve Evans’s Gillingham tonight, but manager Paul Warne insists it will not come into their thinking.

The Millers do want to be 20 games unbeaten when the final whistle blows on this evening’s League One home game but they are not looking at it as part of the sequence, just another opportunity to cement their place at the top of the table.

So tight is the top of League One that Sunderland and Wycombe Wanderers could move above Warne’s team if former Millers manager Evans is able to do what he enjoys the most, and throw a cat amongst the pigeons. Defeat would give Wigan Athletic and Plymouth Argyle the chance to go above them tomorrow, too.

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It is why if scores are level in tonight’s latter stages, Warne would rather his team gambled for victory than focused simply on preserving their unbeaten status.

Not important: Rotherham manager Paul Warne says their 19-match unbeaten sequence has no bearing on the team’s attempts to win every game. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

“If we draw and everybody else wins we could slip down to third so you’ve got to go for it and that’s what we’re trying to do,” explained Warne.

“It also shows the standards of the other teams in this league because we think we’re playing quite well but everybody else is picking up points regularly in the top ten.

“On Friday night (a 1-0 FA Cup win over Stockport County), we let them have an opportunity to score from a set-piece. That might be the one set-piece we let (John) Akinde score for Gillingham and he puts it away and all our hard work in the other 92 minutes is gone on one incident. For us to be relentless we have to be excellent at every single thing.

“To win games it comes down to being good in loads of different parts of the games and we just have to keep trying to improve standards with improved performances. Hopefully we can keep pushing to keep improving performances.”

Ready to return: Northern Ireland international Shane Ferguson is fit to return for Rotherham tonight. (AP Photo/Raul Mee)

Warne insists the long unbeaten run and the tightness of the division has no bearing on his team’s thinking.

“It’s not that important,” he said of the former. “If we were on a 19-game unbeaten run or a one-game unbeaten run I’d still want to win the next game.

“If it wasn’t for people mentioning the unbeaten run to us, it wouldn’t even come into our thought process. We just think we’re doing okay but we’ve got the same points as two other teams and there’s another four champing at the bit so it’s not like we’re eight points clear, having a jolly-up and bringing our own Monopoly and Downfall into work and having craic.

“If we lost our unbeaten run tonight I’d be more disappointed about losing the game than losing our unbeaten run because that has no effect on my psychology at all.

Doubt: Veteran Millers captain Richard Wood needs a scan on his groin. Picture Tony Johnson

“I don’t know if (the tightness of the table) helps, truth be told, because if we were 15 points clear I’d still be exactly the same, I’d still be incessant in demanding we put crosses in the box and running forward.

“I said to the lads at half-time on Friday if their GPS stats weren’t better in the second half, look forward to seeing me on Monday. “We’re constantly pushing performance KPIs (key performance indicators) all the time.

“The standard of the league’s really good this year and there are massive teams in this league with big squads full of really good players. I think the lads know if they want to achieve something they’ve got to win a lot of games.

“I don’t know if the fact there’s teams breathing down their neck helps the lads or not, I just think within this group the lads just want to dig in.”

Captain Richard Wood was waiting on the result of a scan on his groin to see if he can play tonight but Northern Ireland wing-back Shane Ferguson should definitely be fit.

The 36-year-old centre-back was substituted at half-time on Friday and the longest run of consecutive appearances he has managed so far this season is four – in September and November.

Ferguson missed Friday’s Cup tie with illness but not Covid-19.

“Shane Ferguson is fine, 100 per cent available,” confirmed Warne before yesterday’s training session.

“Woody’s still a doubt, he’s having a scan.

“The pain’s reduced but we don’t want players to take unnecessary risks.”

The only other injury is to Angus MacDonald, who despite being back in training for the first time since May is still “four or five weeks” away from being in contention to play.

In-keeping with many English clubs over the weekend, Rotherham will have a minute’s applause for murdered six-year-old football fan Arthur Labinjo-Hughes in the sixth minute of tonight’s game.

Last six games: Rotherham United WDDWWW; Gillingham LLLLDD.

Referee: R Joyce (Teesside).

Last time: Rotherham United 1 Gillingham 3, October 28, 2017, League One.