WHEN a beaming Tony Stewart was showing visitors round the Football League’s newest stadium last summer, the proud Rotherham United chairman would often liken the facilities to a “five-star hotel”.
He had a point; the New York Stadium truly is a magnificent venue and one that belongs at a much higher level than League Two.
What the Millers’ chief could not possibly have envisaged when showing off the club’s new £20m home was just how much to their liking visiting teams would find the luxurious facilities.
United’s home record betrays that with Steve Evans’s promotion chasing side having lost eight times in 19 league outings on their own turf. Only York City and Aldershot Town, who can both be found in the relegation zone, have suffered more defeats at home in League Two.
Manager Evans is frustrated that his team have taken just one point more from his side’s 19 home games than they have from an identical number on the road is tangible. And he is in no doubt as to what has been a leading factor in so many opposing teams having left Rotherham with all three points.
“Teams are coming to the New York Stadium and raising their game,” said Evans to the Yorkshire Post ahead of today’s crunch clash with fellow promotion rivals Exeter City.
“That much has been obvious. People talk about going to Bradford, but the reality is that stadium is dilapidated and old.
“I don’t think anyone runs out there any more and gets inspired. What inspires teams in League Two is going to Rotherham United.
“If I was the visiting manager, I would be looking forward to a trip to Rotherham and thinking ‘this is where we want to play’. Then, I would look at the stadium, the home end and the crowd with a real desire to win.
“(Gillingham manager) Martin Allen said as much (after his side’s 2-1 win at Rotherham in December), so did Micky Adams (after Port Vale’s 2-1 triumph later the same month). That is what we are up against.
“It can be difficult to counter because a lot of the teams, in terms of ability, are equally matched in League Two.
“Having said that, we don’t want to change too much because, when you look at our statistics at home, they are frightening.
“Our possession in home games this season stands at 66 per cent. I would suggest no other home team in the country has a statistic like that. What we must change, though, is taking our chances when they come along.”
With League Two being so tight – the Millers are seventh but just six points behind second-placed Port Vale – Evans admits now would be the ideal time to rediscover some home comforts. He does stress, however, that Exeter, two places and two points ahead of United but having played a game more, will be formidable opponents.
He added: “We are ready to play one of the best teams in the division. I watched the DVD of Exeter’s game against Bradford last Saturday when they won 4-1. When I say it could have been 33-1, it really could have been as that is just how dominant they were.”
Along with the need to inflict damage on a play-off rival, Rotherham will today look to banish the memory of last weekend’s 3-0 hammering at Cheltenham Town.
Evans said: “In my opinion, we have had three or four poor performances this season and that one at Cheltenham was by far the poorest.
“By 3.05pm last Saturday, I realised I had picked the wrong team. It would be unfair to say who I would have played and who I wouldn’t. But I did say to (assistant) Paul Raynor, ‘I think I have got it this wrong this week’.
“As the game developed, I unfortunately realised I was right. You have days like that, when one or two aren’t at it in certain positions.
“What I will say, though, is that there will be no knee-jerk reactions to what happened at Cheltenham. It was a one-off.”
That defeat at Whaddon Road was United’s second in three outings with Dagenham & Redbridge having become the latest visiting side to leave south Yorkshire with a precious win just two weeks ago.
Before that loss to the Daggers, however, the Millers had taken 14 points from their previous six games and a similarly strong finish to the season could yet see the New York Stadium’s inaugural season end on the ultimate high.
Evans said: “We have kept ourselves in the promotion race with our away form, which has been outstanding. But to get promotion we have to show a consistency in every game.
“Arguably, we have let ourselves down at home and we have to address that. And we are running out of games to do that.
“For me, this is where it starts. We are all in this together. The supporters’ backing at home considering the inconsistency we have shown has been staggering.
“We need that more than ever now, right through until the last minute of the last game – because it might not be until then that anything is decided in this division.”
Asked if he had a points target in mind that might be enough to clinch automatic promotion, Evans replied that it was difficult to offer a prediction in such a tight division.
He did, though, add: “Paul Tisdale (Exeter manager) said earlier this week that they have to win five our of their last seven games.
“Well, we have eight left so if we can beat Exeter then maybe we will need to win five from our final seven.”