MANAGER Paul Warne is calling on his Rotherham United players to produce a ‘Roy of the Rovers’ finish to their renaissance campaign as the Millers seek to book a place in a Wembley play-off final for the third time in eight years.
For the fourth time in its short history, the AESSEAL New Stadium – which celebrates its sixth anniversary this summer – will stage yet another momentous fixture in its final appointment of the season this evening.
A pivotal League One play-off semi-final, second-leg fixture with Scunthorpe follows on from similarly huge home encounters with Aldershot – when the Millers claimed promotion to the third tier on the last day of the 2012-13 campaign – and Reading, which saw the hosts clinch Championship safety in 2014-15.
Joyous post-match scenes followed both wins as they also did in Rotherham’s last play-off home tie against Preston almost exactly four years ago today.
Back on May 15, 2014 the Millers triumphed 3-1 in the second leg against the Lilywhites after drawing the first leg away from home.
With the current two-legged tie with Scunthorpe also being all-square ahead of the second instalment in Rotherham, home supporters are banking their hopes on a re-run this evening as the Millers seek to secure their place in the League One play-off showpiece for the second time in four years.
Harking back to that epic night in 2014, Warne, then working as fitness coach under erstwhile Millers manager Steve Evans said: “I remember the celebrations, but could not tell you who scored any of the goals or how the scoreline went.
“But it obviously was a great atmosphere and the reason why I think it was the best night (here) was because it was the best result at this club in this stadium.
“Preston were a big club and it was a sell-out and I remember the lads really stepped up that night and played absolutely on point and to the best they could against a very good team, who went up the following season.
“It was a great night, obviously. I remember my son was a ball-boy, so I had to call him in with about three minutes left as my wife thought he was going to get mauled. But he thought it was amazing.
“It was a pretty magical night. I remember the gaffer up on the balcony. But the more I talk about the previous magical nights it just makes my mind run wild that I do not want to be in charge of a horrendous night.
“But if we could finish the season off with a home play-off win to take us to Wembley, then that is ‘Roy of the Rovers’ stuff. It is so close, but feels like a billion years away.
“Hopefully that little impetus at home may give us that extra edge, which might be enough to beat a very good team. But it is the hands of the gods really.
“Hopefully it will be a game etched in the fans’ minds for the right reasons.”
With the tie evenly-poised at 2-2 ahead of tonight’s second meeting the prospect of penalties potentially settling this particular play-off encounter will not be lost on rival managers and former Millers team-mates Warne and Nick Daws.
The margins between both sides was slight in Saturday’s game at Glanford Park and, given the meticulous approach of each manager, it will come as no surprise that the prospect of a shoot-out resolving matters is something that both have potentially made provisions for.
Warne’s devout hope is that the game is settled with a positive outcome over 120 minutes in the hosts’ favour, but contingencies have been made in case it is not.
On whether he knows his designated penalty takers, he added: “It depends who is on the pitch at the time. There are a few of the lads I would bet my life on to score, but taking a penalty in a normal game and in a play-off shoot-out are two different things.
“We will have a list of who will take them if they are on the pitch. But I always believe they have to want to take one. If you do not fancy it yourself you have got no chance.
“We will have a list, but we will also ask the lads on the night. Hopefully it will not come to that. It is a bit of a lottery. It is an amazing way to win, but an absolutely disgusting way to lose.
“The stats show that there is an 80 to 90 per cent success rate to score to win a shoot-out, which is down to 60 if it is to stop your team losing.
“That is the pressure on the poor players. I would like to see it won in open play.”
The Millers are encouraging supporters to wear ‘Red for Rotherham’ to try to create a sea of red around the stadium, while a 12m x 12m flag paid for by fans’ donations will make its first appearance tonight.
Last six games: Rotherham DWWLWD Scunthorpe WWWWDD.
Referee: S Duncan (Northumberland).
Last time: Rotherham 2 Scunthorpe 0; October 14, 2017; League One.