Rotherham United v Newcastle United: Millers planning to pull off yet another big-game upset
IT is occasions like this afternoon that explain why Alan Stubbs was so desirous of taking the plunge into Championship waters with Rotherham United on June 1.
The current conditions may be choppy after a disappointing run of one win from 10 league games at the start of 2016-17, but it has done nothing to dim the Millers’ manager’s enthusiasm.
Stubbs and the Millers may have had it tough thus far, but the relish and sense of expectation is prevalent among everyone of a red-and-white persuasion ahead of a marquee AESSEAL New York Stadium fixture today.
The hope that they retain against Newcastle is not blind either.
In previous seasons, the big-game atmosphere on home soil has served the Millers remarkably well at times.
Last season, the hosts downed Leeds United – for the second time in successive seasons – while the promoted Yorkshire duo of Middlesbrough and Hull City also came a cropper. So did Brighton.
Those episodes, and others besides, provide a modicum of optimism in difficult times for Stubbs and Millers fans.
Pitting his wits against a managerial technocrat in Rafa Benitez is also something that floats Stubbs’s boat from a professional capacity, with the pair going head to head after once being in opposing factions of the Merseyside footballing divide.
Stubbs, buoyed by his side’s improved performance, albeit in a losing cause at leaders Huddersfield Town on Tuesday, said: “Rafa is a fantastic manager. He is still looking for that right balance because they have had a huge turnaround in players.
“It is me pitting my wits against a Champions League winner. There is the Liverpool and Everton rivalry as well.
“I have come across Rafa on a few occasions and he is a really nice guy; very humble and very intelligent. You only have to listen to some of his ex-players talking to know that, tactically, he is a fantastic manager.
“I am hoping on Saturday he does not get his tactics right and I get mine right.”
Alongside the home games with Sheffield Wednesday, Leeds and maybe Aston Villa, today’s game with the Magpies, who visit Rotherham in the league for the first time in almost exactly 34 years since a Kevin-Keegan inspired Toon triumphed 5-1 on October 2, 1982, the Doncaster-born forward scoring four times – ranks at the top in terms of star billing for the Millers.
As an Evertonian, Stubbs is someone who ‘knows his history’ in the words of the Blues’ famous chant and he appreciates the sense of occasion, albeit with a desire to ensure that the latest league game between the Millers and Newcastle is much closer.
On today’s sell-out encounter, Stubbs added: “It is great. This is what it is all about.
“I do not think anyone could have envisaged the likes of a Newcastle coming to New York Stadium this season as everybody would have thought they would be a Premier League club.
“When a team has spent over £50m on players just this season, I think that tells you what their aspirations are. They will be there or thereabouts. I think they are everybody’s favourites to go up this season. I can see why.”
There may be undoubted respect for what the relegated north-easterners, but the Millers will not be cowed – nor should they be given some rousing home performances against a number of Championship big-hitters over the past two seasons.
Perhaps one school of thought that suggests that today’s game might just bring out the best in the Millers, able to utilise the underdog card that they have employed successfully on occasions in recent years, may also be a pertinent one.
Midfielder Joe Newell certainly hopes so and says the Millers will be “buzzing” ahead of the game, even accounting for a six-match winless streak.
Newell said: “If you cannot get up for Newcastle at home, I do not think you should be in football.
“We will all be buzzing for it, especially after dusting ourselves down, looking at the analysis from Huddersfield and going over the tactical points. After getting over that game emotionally, we are raring to go.
“It is a massive game. We were all disappointed at Huddersfield because no one likes losing, especially after the way we dug in and felt we could have got something, but we are looking forward to Newcastle. It is a full house as well.
“If we can start well and give the crowd something to get behind us with – we all know how much they want us to do well – it has got the potential to be a great game.”