STEVE EVANS says that no talks will be held with Rotherham United’s out-of-contract players until the club knows what division they will play in next season.
The Millers, who host Millwall in a seismic survival six-pointer in the Championship today have several key players on their books whose deals expire in the summer, including captain Craig Morgan and Ben Pringle and loanees Adam Hammill and Conor Sammon, who are attempting to land longer-term deals.
The Millers chief will not enter into discussions while the club’s fate is unclear, but in a coded message to those players coming off contract, he confirmed that the hopes of those seeking to earn fresh terms will be immeasurably boosted by clinching safety at the earliest possible juncture.
The development came after Morgan revealed he would love to commit his future to the club next season, while adding that no discussions had yet taken place.
Some reports have suggested that talks are to start with rejuvenated wingman Pringle, who looked to be on his way out of the club early in the New Year ahead of rejecting a proposed move to today’s opponents Millwall.
But Evans’s fresh comments suggest that talks with those out of contract will remain on hold with the club’s seasonal prospects in the balance.
He said: “The board don’t want us to have any conversations and all the focus has to be on what is going on, on the pitch, and not what is going on in meetings on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday afternoons. It (contract talks) is totally irrelevant.
“Craig was told along with two or three others that no conversations will take place until we know what division we are in. How can we have a conversation?
“If we can’t come to a deal with Craig Morgan in the summer, there will be a host of football clubs out there because he is a top-class player.”
Evans added: “It is no hidden secret that players in the Championship earn more than those in League One and every player who was with us in League One earns significantly more now than what they did in League One.
“But what we are not going to do is get into discussions when we have got a real battle going on, on the pitch.
“Once you win the battle on the pitch, then you show you are worthy of being here.”
Collectively, the Millers’ fate remains firmly in their own hands ahead of a definitive last 14 games of 2014-15, which Evans has labelled a ‘season-within-a-season.’
January and the vast majority of February may have been tough with a host of daunting assignments on the menu against sides fighting it out at the top of the table, but their run-in, on paper at least, is more benign.
The Millers have to play two of the bottom three at home, starting with Millwall today and Wigan on March 14 and also host Brighton, Reading and Cardiff.
They only face two sides in promotion contention, Middlesbrough and Norwich, before May.
Given their arduous run of fixtures, the Millers’ current position, one place and three points above the drop zone, is something not to be sniffed at according to Evans, although he admits that their forthcoming run of games only looks kind ‘on paper’.
It is now up to the Millers to finish off the job as they did during “squeaky bum time” in the previous two seasons when promotion was secured. Championship safety will be something else to be cherished once it is achieved.
Evans said: “Our destiny is in our hands. I look at some of the run-ins of some teams in the fight with us and I look at ours and I am more confident looking at ours.
“We control our destiny, don’t we? Our run-in looks okay on paper, but there’s never been a point won on paper.”
As one-off Championship games in isolation go, this afternoon’s game with the third-from-bottom Lions, who can move level on points with the Millers if they triumph, looks as big as it has got so far this season for Evans’s side.
But the Scot insists he will not be popping the champagne corks if his side triumph – nor swallowing the pills either if they lose, more especially with a home game coming up with Cardiff on Tuesday.
That said, Evans can be comforted by his side’s penchant for embracing the big occasion and prospering at the New York Stadium following his arrival almost three years ago, with victories over the likes of Preston and Aldershot when seasonal fates were on the line and both Sheffield clubs and Leeds United in front of packed houses providing plenty of succour.
This afternoon against the Lions promises to be another one in front of another bumper crowd, just as it was at the old Millmoor ground in December, 2000 when both sides were battling it out for promotion in the old Third Division. Then, a last-gasp goal from Alan Lee gave the Millers a famous 3-2 win.
A repeat of that result, without quite the tension, would be just the ticket for home supporters today.
Evans, whose side start a run today of four games out of six at the AESSEAL New York Stadium, said: “I don’t put it up there with the Aldershot game as the prize at the end of it was self-explanatory or the Preston game.
“But this game is up there and there’s no side-stepping.
“I think it is going to be played on a knife-edge. But we hope our players go out with an expression and play.
“A lot of players were still with us in League Two and they handled it when we won the last five games to get promoted. And in League One, we handled the Preston play-offs and Wembley.
“They are used to it and now is the time when performances are needed from the guys again; me included.”