Rotherham United v Sunderland: Paul Warne sticks to claim that Millers are best side in League One

Rotherham United have goals to spare at the moment, which is just as well.

Will Grigg has scored four in his last seven appearances, but cannot add to that today because the Millers are hosting the club he is on loan from, Sunderland.

Kieran Sadlier scored a midweek hat-trick but such is the competition for places at wing-back, a first League One start in four matches is not guaranteed. A lot gets said about how the Football League Trophy is valued, today’s Rotherham team-sheet will say more.

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But even without them, this is not a team struggling for goals. Their 39 in all competitions this season is a Football League best, albeit manager Paul Warne pours cold water on it by pointing out how many (15) have come in three Trophy group games. They have still scored three or more in five of their last seven matches in all competitions.

Freddie Ladapo: Set to lead the Rotherham United attack. Picture Bruce Rollinson

No-one should expect a repeat today. Like Rotherham and Wycombe Wanderers, who kept a clean sheet against the Millers during the sequence, they are one of a sizeable clutch of third-tier teams a fair way ahead of the rest, but it might cause some to re-evaluate the lazy stereotypes about Warne’s men.

Warne recently described his team as the best in League One, and in this of all seasons, you do not get to be that by being one-dimensional.

After last week’s 3-0 home defeat, Milton Keynes Dons manager Liam Manning described Rotherham as “well-organised, physical and intense opposition”. He was spot on, but to stop there missed the point.

“I don’t really read other people’s comments, I’m not that interested, and I also understand the pressure managers have when they do their press conferences and they might be protecting their position,” insists Warne.

“Sometimes it’s an easy out that we’re this big, strong side.

“We had 40 per cent (possession in Milton Keynes) but I think that’s a pointless stat. You’re better off having a stat on how many times you were in the final third.

“You cannot say we have the most physical midfield with Ollie (Rathbone), Wilesy (Ben Wiles) and (Dan) Barlaser – they’ve hardly got a tackle between them. They’re the mildest three lads you’ll ever meet. They can run but (Kevin) de Bruyne runs, (Bernardo) Silva runs, (Phil) Foden runs.”

Warne’s comments are not about protecting his positon – he feels he is piling pressure on himself – but his tactics this afternoon will show they are not just words.

“Sunderland are probably the best team (on ability) in League One but the lads will set up to win and that’s the confidence I have in the group,” he says.

“Out of possession, we’re obsessed with stopping the opposition playing but then giving the lads freedom when they get it. But there has to be an end goal – a cross, a shot, an attempt at goal – so our mindset this season has just been to outscore teams. I’m not saying we’re Kevin Keegan’s team of the 90s but we’re creating plenty of chances.

“We haven’t scored as many as I would like, truth be told, but 90 per cent of what we’ve done this season has been very good.

“I don’t think we’ve got the best players in every postion but for the first time I just don’t think I’ve got much weakness.

“They’re very well coached, highly talented, the medical team are unbelievable, I’ve got the best analyst I’ve ever had and we’re all pulling in the same direction.

“If I say we’ve got the best team and we lose three on the spin, everyone says, ‘He’s got the best team, he doesn’t know what he’s doing, get him out.’ I’m well aware saying it is career suicide but that’s my belief.”

It is being reflected where it matters the most.

“You can have games where you literally just can’t score,” says Warne. “We had 20-odd attempts at Lincoln (and scored once). I can’t let the Lincoln game go, or the Crewe game. In both we should have scored four or five goals and we ended up drawing.

“If you’re going to win games you need to take your chances and the lads are putting the ball away and feeling good abut the next game is a completely different kettle of fish.

“You can bring in a little feel-good factor but you don’t bring anything else. The next game brings different challenges, it’s a completely different game, and I definitely do not want any after the Lord Mayor’s Show attitude.”

With Warne hopeful the soreness Mikel Miller reported during the 5-0 trouncing of Manchester City’s Under-21s – “very flattering,” the manager admits – will not keep him out today, his biggest decision is whether to retain captain Richard Wood. Freddie Ladapo is Grigg’s likely replacement.