Rotherham United v Lincoln City: Millers aiming to create safety gap over rivals
The Millers are at home twice this week, against the Imps and Shrewsbury Town, then are unlikely to play in the league again until April 9 thanks to the Football League Trophy final and the likelihood their trip to Sunderland will be postponed because of international call-ups.
Tonight is their game in hand on Milton Keynes Dons, an opportunity to open a seven-point gap to the play-off places.
If only it were that simple.
Lincoln might be 16th, but it is only a week-and-a-half ago they beat a Sheffield Wednesday side in tremendous form 3-1.
Under Michael Appleton, a product of Manchester United’s academy, they like to play passing football from the back but in John Marquis they have a centre-forward adept at using his considerable frame to good effect and behind him former Rotherham forward Chris Maguire, not averse to mixing his considerable skill with the odd bit of gamesmanship.
“They’re a good football team,” says Warne, whose side have held onto top spot despite a wobble of two points from the last three league games. “Marquis and (striker partner Tom) Hopper both work really hard off the ball, Chris is hilarious. I’ve really enjoyed watching him play over the years and he’s had a great career.
“But their job is to come to New York and try and win or at least try and stop us from winning.
“In professional sport there’s loads of different ways to win. We don’t play the same football they do and neither of us are right or wrong. They’ll do everything in their means to frustrate us and if we’re leading, we’d do the same to them.
“I think it will be a really open game.
“They probably don’t have the same pressures we do because we’re the home team, we’re expected to dominate and win but that’s not how football is. I’ve said that for weeks and months.
“The last three months we’ve had some unbelievable results where we’ve won by one goal – the width of a post from a draw, the width of a post at the other end and it could have been a defeat.
“I don’t think there’ll be much between us as teams and we’re going to have to be at our singing best to break them down and stop them scoring. Touch wood in recent weeks we’ve been good at defending but there’s always that one game and as an attacking force they have a lot of power and a lot of experience that can cause you problems.”
The Imps’ win over Wednesday was a warning that no game can be taken for granted in the third tier but anyone who did not realise already has not been paying much attention.
“Between now and the end of the season there’ll be more,” says Warne. “We beat Doncaster and they went up to Sunderland the next game and Hammy (coach Matt Hamshaw) said to me, ‘They’ll beat Sunderland’. I said I couldn’t see it but they did and outplayed them.
“No team is ever as great as people think or as poor. It’s just about the teams that can perform at their absolute best consistently and if we’re going to finish the season off as we want we’re going to have to get back to those levels.”
Warne is not losing any sleep about his team’s possible upcoming break.
“Not at all, there’s not much I can do, is there?” he says. “I’m also not concerned too much about my hairline, there’s not much I can do about that either.
“On a positive spin, if we can get a decent point hold from these next two games it gives us a bit of time on the grass so we can coach because all we’ve been doing is recovering and preparing. It can give the lads a bit of down-time, then we’ve got a cup final and eight (metaphorical) cup finals after it so it’s a bit of rest before the final push.
“If we don’t pick up decent results we could end up coming back after this break in third, possibly. So we need to pick up wins to go into the international break and the Papa John’s final with decent points in the bag.
“But the other side is it probably gives the lads more rest, it does allow us more time to try and get Freddie (Ladapo) back (from injury), it does give us more time to coach and just refresh all our core values.
“Generally speaking, after every international break we’ve gone on a pretty good run.
“Would I prefer just to keep playing like everybody else? Yeah I would, really, but I can see the positives.”
Warne is hopeful Ladapo might be back from his thigh injury by “the second or third week of April”. Rotherham’s regular season finishes at Gillingham on April 30.
Referee: C Sarginson (Staffordshire)
Last time: Rotherham United 0 Lincoln City 2, August 10, 2019, League One.