SHOULD Rotherham United manager Paul Warne scour his contacts book to speak to like-minded managerial souls who are bravely swimming against an unrelenting Championship tide he will quickly discover there are not many names on that list any more.
The landscape of the second tier, which contains 19 clubs who have played in the Premier League since its formation in 1992, is much-changed from Warne’s playing days in red and white of Rotherham in the early Noughties.
A bit different, too, from the Millers’ previous three-season stint in the Championship when a handful of clubs of a similar ilk remained in the vicinity.
A few seasons ago and Rotherham had the likes of MK Dons and Burton Albion for company. When Warne was grafting down the flanks doing the ‘graveyard shift’ at the Millers’ former Millmoor home it was Crewe, Grimsby, Stockport and Walsall.
Not to mention several fair-sided clubs who had taken their medicine in the third tier, such as Stoke City and Brighton, before laying the groundwork for some days in the top-flight sun.
Now he is competing as an unequal in a division that is stacked with city teams who have tasted the big time and are positively ravenous to get back, fortified in many cases by hefty parachute payments.
A Premier League Two in all but official recognition.
It is perhaps the lack of the comparable teams who traditionally broke bread with the Millers as opposed to the giants they are facing that is the most striking facet for Warne this season.
Not one to bemoan his lot, the Millers’ chief and his hardy set of staff and players are carrying on regardless and making the best of a difficult job, with a current placing above the relegation zone testament to their resourcefulness, character and will.
Should the situation remain the same come season’s end there will be no civic reception or open-top bus parade – but there probably should be.
In virtually every game this season we have been competitive. I am not being negative, but sometimes you can forget where you have come from. We finished fourth in League One (last year) and did not romp the league or anything.Paul Warne
Warne observed: “In my opinion, if we stayed up in this league in the current climate that would be some achievement.
“I do not care what anyone says to me, this is the toughest Championship league I have ever seen.
“We played Reading a few weeks ago and they were outstanding and they are below us in the league. Millwall have just gone and signed two players.
“When we played in it, no disrespect, but we had Stockport and Crewe there. But that is not the case any more. All these teams are Premier League teams and I think we are competing and doing really well.
“In virtually every game this season we have been competitive. I am not being negative, but sometimes you can forget where you have come from. We finished fourth in League One (last year) and did not romp the league or anything.
“Wigan finished 18 points ahead of us and spent £6m in the summer – and we are four points behind them. I think the lads are doing really well. We should have more points in my opinion, but the next half of the season is crucial.
“We are asking the lads to be relentless in everything they do and, hopefully, collate enough points to have a successful season.
“My job and that of the coaching staff is to get the best out of players we have got and we are doing that and are proud of that. But we will be judged at the end of the season and, hopefully, it will be in a positive position.”
Systematic of the changed nature of the Championship comes in the form of today’s arrival of Brentford, historically a comparably-sized club to the Millers.
Much has been made of the Bees’ use of data to purchase emerging footballers through the owner Matthew Benham’s statistical-analysis company SmartOdds, but signing players of potential invariably costs significant amounts of money.
Striker Ollie Watkins, on the radar of many clubs, cost £1.8m from Exeter City, while another who has many admirers in Neal Maupay was brought in for £1.6m.
It is to the Millers’ credit that victory today against a Brentford side who dismantled them 5-1 on the opening day of the season would move them to within three points of the London club.
With forthcoming games against teams around them in the table such as Millwall and Wigan, the concept of dragging others into the relegation frame is not lost upon Warne, whose fourth-from-bottom side hold a two-point buffer over Reading.
When you are not blessed with natural advantages over your rivals, such things are important.
Warne said: “That would be great, wouldn’t it? At the moment there are four of us in it and the more we can pull back the better. For all of us in the bottom six wins are like absolute gold dust at the moment.
“Everyone is going to try and improve in the window. If we keep Brentford down there, great.”
Warne was effusive in his praise of the Bees after his side’s first-day humbling and later claimed they were the best side in the Championship, even if the lessons of that early August afternoon were somewhat painful.
For some,those events will provide motivational fuel for the return, but Warne is phlegmatic.
He continued: “If they were doing nutmegs and oles and flicks around the corner and being like (Andrei) Kanchelskis and standing on the ball, I think the lads would have taken massive disrespect and been wound up by it.
“But a lot of games have gone since then and we are both possibly different teams, not just in personnel, but psychology.”