Rotherham United v Leeds United – Underdog status fits nicely as Warne seeks unity at Millers

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FRUSTRATION in the transfer market, a comprehensive home defeat which saw a section of supporters turn on a player, injury issues and illness in the camp. Six defeats in your past seven matches.

Then there is the small matter of a game against league leaders, a team who you believe to be comfortably the best in your division, a ‘little Manchester City’ in your words. A ‘phenomenal’ side.

As preparations for a Yorkshire derby go for Rotherham United manager Paul Warne, he has had far more straightforward weeks.

Should the Millers get something from today’s game, you suspect that Warne, his coaching staff and players will have seriously earned his money.

The game may pit together two White Rose sides operating in the same division, but that is where the similarities end, according to the Millers chief.

While Rotherham fight fires at the wrong end of the Championship and attempt to turn the equivalent of straw into gold on the transfer front, Leeds are producing the most thoroughly convincing case so far in their quest to return to what most view to be their rightful place in the Premier League – and are blessed with the sort of advantages that the Millers can only dream about.

SELF-BELIEF: Rotherham United manager Paul Warne

SELF-BELIEF: Rotherham United manager Paul Warne

On FA Cup fourth-round weekend, these two sides may be coming together in the league but, for Warne, the game is a ‘David-versus-Goliath’ type cup tie in all but name.

Warne said: “People know how hard this league is and Leeds are the best team in it. I think you can treat it as a cup game really.

“If the lads walk off the pitch and give everything and it has been a really great game and they lost 2-1 or something, then no-one can have any complaints.

“But, with a bit of luck, we will come off victorious and I get carried into the crowd!

Regrettably – and I hate to say this – we will not be the best team on Saturday unless a lot of things happen. But that does not mean we cannot win.

Rotherham United manager, Paul Warne

“It is an awful thing to say, but most people who are turning up and coming through the turnstiles are expecting a Leeds win – including our own fans. That is what I honestly think.

“I do not mind being the underdog. I spent my whole life being the underdog. Most of my lads in the dressing room are misfits or underdogs at other places. Collectively, you just never know, although we do need a lot of things to go our way.

“We need a better start than we had last week and to be productive when we have the ball. We need a lot of luck and must hope 10 or 11 of them have a bad day and then we should be alright.

“If football fans think it is easy, it most definitely is not. I know I have my affinity with Norwich, but Leeds are heads and shoulders above the rest.”

Rotherham may be up against it, but football conjures strange stories, especially in the Championship. This particular fixture has done some funny things over the years and is rarely short of drama.

The Millers famously recorded their first league win of a truly wretched 2004-05 season at the 21th time of asking in an incomprehensible 1-0 victory over Kevin Blackwell’s Leeds at the old Millmoor in November 2004.

Leeds struck the woodwork four times in the opening quarter of an hour and completely dominated the game, but somehow the hosts dug in to chisel out a precious triumph in front of the live TV cameras.

A late Greg Halford penalty, after Whites goalkeeper Marco Silvestri was sent off – saw the Millers – already down to 10 men themselves – earn the points at Easter 2016 and an identical 2-1 success was registered in October 2014, when Rotherham came from behind to triumph.

Warne may be under no illusions about the extent of today’s task, but equally he will appreciate that it is in this club’s DNA to make light of adversity and like nothing better than upset the odds.

Football – and sport at a wider level – is not an exact science. Fates can and do intervene.

Warne added: “The worst thing about the game is the best thing in my opinion – that you do not have to be the best team to win.

“Regrettably – and I hate to say this – we will not be the best team on Saturday unless a lot of things happen. But that does not mean we cannot win.

“When we played Ipswich at home, we were horrendous and won. Then I thought we were excellent away and we lost. That is just how it is.

“We do sell the dream. I love showing the lads ‘giant-killings’ in different sports. They do not even know what sports they are watching (sometimes). I put some hurling on for Fordey (Anthony Forde) and Richie Towell the other day to prove I was fully inclusive!

“Last week, I put up some stuff about Shaq O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. They won three championships together and then one went to Miami Heat and one stayed with the (LA) Lakers.

“Shaq won another title with Heat, but Bryant, who was left behind, won two titles. I was trying to make a point to the lads that when you have bad times, it is how you react. You are always going to lose games.

“Kobe reacted by going to the gym and training his backside off to get better. Shaq reacted by smashing his house up.”

Examples of the Millers overcoming the odds and feeding off a fierce home crowd has been part of the club’s tapestry at both the AESSEAL New York Stadium and their former Millmoor home and Warne believes that today is an occasion when the hosts must be as one on the pitch as well as off it, if they are to produce a surprise.

A difficult afternoon at the hands of Brentford last weekend was compounded by the sight of some ironic cheers greeting the substitution of Zac Vyner, a moment which hurt Warne and many Millers followers.

With today highly likely to be an occasion when the hosts must close ranks and definitely won’t have it all their own way, Warne has preached a message of unity.

He said: “There is always a minority who grumble no matter what happens.

“A few made their feelings known (to Vyner). But this is a great club and if it was full of people like that, I would not work here.

“Everyone has been around Zac this week and he has had personal messages sent to him via all sorts of social media showing him support. And that is the end of it really.”