FOR Paul Warne and all those fellow ‘Rotherham people’ whose duty of care to their club is a reassuring constant, a brief swell of pride may just be detectable before derby battle commences this afternoon.
Several hills may need to be climbed if the Millers are to translate their magnificent winter rebirth into something tangible at the end of the season by way of qualification for the play-offs – or even promotion – but in many respects, the club have won their most important fight already.
Namely, restoring the identity back to a club who had lost their way badly in a desolate 2016-17 campaign; which saw a team bereft of soul and character and horribly out of tune with its increasingly desolate fanbase.
Last season was an unmitigated disaster. A Norfolk man, he may be, but Warne is as inextricably linked to Rotherham United, his club, as the old Tivoli nightclub and sign of Ronnie Moore above the Millmoor Hotel.
He felt the pain personally as did others such as John Breckin, Mike Pollitt and Richie Barker; individuals with Rotherham United in their DNA.
Now the hearts and minds of fans are being won back.
If we go on the worst run in the world (now) and I lose my job now, I will be devastated, but at least I can sit back with a bit of pride and think: ‘we have played the way I wanted to play, we have done it my way’.Paul Warne
A bellwether moment will arrive this afternoon when an expectant Millers congregation assemble in a sell-out crowd at the AESSEAL New York Stadium for the derby visit of Doncaster Rovers – in the hope of witnessing a seventh straight league victory.
Back in the summer, full houses looked a world away, but it is testament to the way in which Warne and co have got the Millers believing again; a side who have forgotten what it is like to lose and whose in-your-face high-octane style is evoking memories of successful Rotherham sides of yore.
The Millers chief and ex-player said: “I would have been upset, obviously, if I had lost my job in December. If we go on the worst run in the world (now) and I lose my job now, I will be devastated, but at least I can sit back with a bit of pride and think: ‘we have played the way I wanted to play, we have done it my way.’
“Come the summer, we got rid of loads of players and did not spend loads of money and cut the budget right back. We needed to build all the lads up who were ruined last year and integrate all the new players and hopefully they would fit in.
“You cannot just do that in two, three or four weeks. No chance. Whatever happens for the rest of this season, we will try and improve again in the summer and make some additions, but not wholesale changes, and get a real identity to the team. And at the moment, we have that.”
Warne’s counterpart Darren Ferguson’s assertion that his Doncaster side will need the equivalent of ‘tin hats’ this afternoon to cope with an expected Millers’ bombardment may have been a touch excessive.
But it did speak volumes about the way in which Rotherham are currently perceived as the most challenging opponents at this level. And with good reason.
The Millers’ fine 13-match unbeaten run has been built around a relentless pressing game and ferocious work-rate. Aerial and set-piece prowess is factored into the equation, but perhaps the biggest ingredient is belief.
“I do not want to lose it, it makes my sleep a lot easier,” said Warne of the club’s special run.
“At the start of the season, when we were winning five and everyone was waxing lyrical about the team, I was never that convinced we had it sussed.
“It did not seem a perfect fit for me. I just think with the way we are playing now and the system we play and the way we are attacking and making substitutions just seems more of a fit to me and how I envisaged this club to play and be.
“If the lads continue to play with this amount of gusto, I will be pretty happy.
“I really enjoy work at the moment and training is excellent. We did not get the lads off the training ground until gone one on Thursday, which is phenomenal.
“We just could not get them off and they are giving each other so much stick and it is a good laugh. It comes from winning, I know that, but it is a really close group. I just hope the wins continue for them.”
For many Millers followers, a convincing derby victory over Rovers would provide the icing on the cake to their own version of a Winter Wonderland.
History is certainly in their corner today too, with the hosts having not seen their colours lowered on home soil by Doncaster since way back in March 1985.
That early spring day saw Rovers, then managed by the late Billy Bremner, triumph 3-2 at the old Millmoor thanks to goals from Ray Deans and future ‘Millers’ John Buckley and Colin Douglas.
Since then, the Millers have won 10 of their last 11 home games with Doncaster, with a 0-0 draw on their last meeting in September 2006 interrupting a peerless 10-match winning streak.
Steadfastly in the here and now, Warne is not one for history.
But he does appreciate that expectation will be rife among Millers supporters this afternoon as he seeks to claim some semblance of bragging rights too.
On the fixture’s historical context, Warne – who lives in the Doncaster village of Tickhill – said: “That’s a fair argument. But those 11’s has never played this 11 here.
“I do not buy into any of that, it is just for statisticians.
“I think the fact we are playing Donny here and they have not won for 30 years has no effect, from the coaching and playing staff.
“But from the fans’ point of view, they will expect us to perform at a level to get a victory. I understand that because the people behind me tell me enough.”