Rotherham United v Wigan: Millers are aiming to build big platform for assault

Steve Evans believes his Rotherham United side can use the final 10 games of the campaign to lay a platform for an assault on the Championship next season.

Rotherham's Kari Arnason is congratulated by Kirk Broadfoot as Matt Derbyshire (left) runs to join the celebrations
Rotherham's Kari Arnason is congratulated by Kirk Broadfoot as Matt Derbyshire (left) runs to join the celebrations

The Millers, after achieving back-to-back promotions, sit nine points ahead of the relegation zone going into today’s visit from third-from-bottom Wigan Athletic.

Last week’s 2-0 win at Huddersfield Town has given the South Yorkshire club a healthy buffer but Evans is not interested in “hanging on to the Championship by our fingertips”.

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He wants Rotherham to finish the season on a high, ahead of summer strengthening in the transfer market and a daunting Championship next time.

Queens Park Rangers, Burnley and Leicester City – the three clubs likely to be relegated from the Premier League – plus big-spending Bristol City from League One will increase competition in 2015-16.

Evans believes the influx of money at neighbours Sheffield Wednesday – with new owner Dejphon Chansiri set to bankroll an overhaul of the Owls squad in the summer – means even maintaining the status quo in South Yorkshire alone will be a daunting challenge.

“We have had a lot of learning to do in the Championship, and you have to learn quickly,” said Evans. “Then you have to implement certain strategies and playing systems.

“We are all learning, and once you learn you are a pretty vicious animal the following season, if you learn properly. You are only a weak animal if you are hanging on by your fingertips.

“We have to do more than just hang on to the Championship by our fingertips. We would take it, but we have to do more.

“It would give us a great platform for next season, and we are going to have to build a platform in South Yorkshire alone.

“Sheffield Wednesday are reportedly spending up to £50m (in the summer) and trying to buy Jordan Rhodes and that would have been unthinkable before the guy from overseas arrived.

“So we are going to have to be very good in the summer, just to even match what others are doing in South Yorkshire.

“The division will only get stronger, if we think the Championship will be adding the likes of QPR, Burnley and Leicester City.

“Then Bristol City from League One, who have already got a top-eight Championship budget, it just shows how tough it’s going to be for us.”

Of course, financial clout guarantees little in the Championship.

Today’s visitors to the New York Stadium, Wigan Athletic, are proof of that.

Relegated from the Premier League with a squad brimming with talent, the Lancashire club have struggled all season and are facing relegation to the third tier of English football.

Evans said: “Wigan came down with substantial sums (of money). They have a number of players that will play at the New York on Saturday who are Premier League players.

“No doubt, in the summer one or two of them will end up back in the Premier League.

“I watched the footage of their loss to Leeds United last week and I don’t know how they lost it. Leeds should have lost 3-1, 4-1.

“I watched them when they went down and unexpectedly beat Norwich City. I watched that game live and it was a comfortable evening.

“If you had said to me last summer you would be next to Wigan in the league table, we would think we are having a mighty season.

“We would expect to be up (at the top) challenging, because everyone expected Wigan to be challenging for promotion.”

Victory today for Wigan would cut the gap to six points, but a Millers win would bring a seemingly unassailable 12-point lead.

Not that Evans believes it is “last-chance saloon” for the visitors.

“It’s the biggest game of the season, because it’s the next one,” said the pragmatic Millers chief. “We have been saying that for a while. Millwall was the biggest, going to Huddersfield was the biggest, and Saturday is now the biggest.

“I don’t subscribe to ‘last-chance saloon’. Last-chance saloon is if they lose on Saturday, they go down. That’s not the case.

“I watched enough of Wigan at Norwich to know how good they can be.”

With no midweek game, Rotherham have been able to spend extra time on the training ground, buoyant after last week’s win at Huddersfield.

For Evans, the message to his players has been to concentrate on their own performances.

“Huddersfield was our best away performance of the season,” he said. “I thought we dealt with them well. It was the complete performance.

“I will be happy if we are nine points above the bottom three on Saturday night, as a minimum. I will be happier if it’s 12.

“It’s tough in the Championship, where every mistake you make you feel gets punished.

“But we are embracing it, and love it. It doesn’t matter now who we play against, Wigan or Derby, it makes no difference to me, it’s a big team. Our players get the opportunity to prove a point.

“I don’t think there is any less pressure on this game, or any more. We had big pressure going into the Millwall game, same against Cardiff. We can all press calculators and guess, but you have to deal with what’s in front of you.”

Today is a similar scenario to the visit of fellow strugglers Millwall a fortnight ago, a true “six-pointer” to pull Rotherham away from the bottom three.

But Evans accepts today’s opponents will probably pose an even bigger threat than Ian Holloway’s team did in that 2-1 defeat on February 28.