ROTHERHAM UNITED manager Paul Warne believes that Wednesday evening’s home League One play-off second leg with Scunthorpe United is the perfect reward for supporters who stuck by the club following a calamitous 2016-17 campaign.
The Millers are just two wins away from securing an instant return to the Championship a little over 12 months since they relinquished their second-tier status following a pitiful return of five wins in 46 matches.
At the helm of a club united and transformed in terms of mood from those dark days of a year ago, Warne believes that his players have fully regained the respect of the Millers’ fanbase, who will turn out in raucous numbers in tomorrow’s final home game of a renaissance season.
On a remarkable transformation for the Millers, who won 25 league games this season and have lost just once on home soil in their past 12 matches, Warne said: “I think we have probably gained some respect after the horrendous deficit of last season.
“Fans definitely turn up with an optimism and smile on their face and I think the fans are going to have a right go (on Wednesday).
“In that respect the lads have won already although it sounds a bit cheesy. Although it would be nice if we could finish the (home) season in an amazing way.
“Obviously there were some doubters when we took the job. I have got no criticism of them; everyone has got an opinion. But there is the other extreme who gave us a fair crack of the whip to see how we got on.
“For the people who backed us I thank them as if everyone was against us it would be a near-on impossible job. I do not pretend I am really thick-skinned and if everyone hates you at a football club and does not want you to do a job it is a hard job at the best of times.
“But if you do not have the support of the people you are trying to do it for it makes it even harder. But I feel as the season has gone on that the club has become more unified. I feel the fans have a good relationship with the players.
“They all know their names, which makes a change from the last few years. I sincerely think that the players enjoy playing in front of the fans and I think there is a real sincerity.
I feel as the season has gone on that the club has become more unified. I feel the fans have a good relationship with the players.Paul Warne
“I do not think I have got any odd people at the club or any players who are disrespectful to the club or badge.”
Despite this season’s upturn, the Millers fate is on the line ahead of tomorrow night’s semi-final second leg with the Iron, who earned a late draw on Saturday thanks to Cameron McGeehan’s 88th-minute leveller for a 2-2 outcome.
With both sides being well matched at Glanford Park at the weekend it has all the portents of being another tight and tense affair in South Yorkshire, with Warne urging his players to embrace the pressure and occasion.
Warne added: “My message to the lads before they go out will be, ‘Look, there is an immense amount of pressure on this game. There is no point wrapping it up any other way. But if you are a true competitor, a true footballer, a true great, you will be able to play with this pressure. If you cannot, you will be taken off after 15 minutes. Simple as that’.
“There is no point lying to them. They need to know the importance of it. As a player you can be in the play-offs one year and think, ‘Oh, I will be in them again next year’. Then it can be 10 years before it comes round again, if it ever does.
“The lads need to know they have already achieved a lot this season and I could not be prouder of them. But if we are going to be beaten then get beaten by the better team. Do not get beaten because we under-perform.
“Your best players normally puff their chests out and perform and we have got some outstanding talent at this club on the pitch and on the bench.
“I am hoping my big-time players step up on Wednesday night and we perform to the level we can. Hopefully that will be enough to beat a very good team.”
Victory tomorrow for the Millers would earn a Wembley final date with Shrewsbury Town, managed by former Rotherham favourite and the club’s second highest-ever appearance maker in Paul Hurst, who masterminded the Shrews’ play-off semi-final victory over Charlton Athletic.
With Iron caretaker manager Nick Daws also being an ex-Miller, two one-time Rotherham team-mates are destined to lead their respective teams in the League One showpiece, with all Millers fans desperate for Warne to stride out alongside Hurst.
Warne commented: “I have texted Hursty, Carlton Morris and Saddsy (Matt Sadler) who are all connected to this club.
“I do not think anyone can complain they are through to Wembley. Of all the teams in the play-offs, they are the ones who thoroughly deserve it.
“I think they were in the second place for 200-odd days in the season, so if any team deserved to have a crack at the final it is them.
“I was pleased for Hursty, he is a great lad and is a Rotherham legend. Hopefully I can play him, if not Dawsy.”