SPEAK to Rotherham United captain Will Vaulks about the topic of ‘cup finals’ and there is certainty in his belief that the Millers face one tomorrow – as opposed to last weekend.
Comments from Sheffield Wednesday manager Steve Bruce irked many Rotherham supporters ahead of last Saturday’s derby at the AESSEAL New York Stadium after he suggested the game was akin to the hosts’ showpiece ‘cup final’ of the season.
But as far as Vaulks and his team-mates are concerned, derby kudos would pale into insignificance to achieving victory over a direct relegation rival in Reading in tomorrow’s huge ‘six-pointer’ at the Madejski Stadium.
A clear indication of the high-stakes nature of the meeting is that the sides are currently separated on just goal difference, with the Millers occupying the third and final relegation position in the Championship and the Royals being one place above the drop zone.
Should the Millers end their 42-game wait for a second-tier away victory – which stretches back to April 9, 2016 – then breaking history would assume secondary importance to the here and now.
Vaulks told The Yorkshire Post: “There is no hiding away from the fact that Reading is a massive game. It is against someone who is on the same amount of points. You can sugar-coat it all you want; but it is a huge game.
“A local derby is a big game, but the actual game was more important than the derby for us. It was more important we got points as we needed them.
“We were not a mid-table team where the local derby was something where we could enjoy it and cheer about it. We needed the points and were unfortunate not to get all three.
“I am looking forward to it (Reading) and I know the players are and I am sure the manager is. It is time to show what we can do and this is a perfect opportunity to gain three points.
“If you are not looking forward to a game like this, you are in the wrong game and playing in the wrong sport and are definitely playing for the wrong team. I cannot wait for it, why wouldn’t you?
“It is a chance to go and beat a team around us and guarantee moving up the table. It is a time to show some real heart and courage, not just from going and smashing people, but going and playing well and doing the right things and going away from home and picking up points which is vital at this stage of the season.”
Last season may have been a heroic one for United, but Vaulks believes that securing safety this season would comfortably surpass those events of 2017-18, which culminated in League One play-off final glory at Wembley.
It is a clear driving force for the Millers, written off by many as cast-iron relegation certainties before a ball was kicked in August – and entitled to be wholly aware that clinching safety would rank highly alongside any achievement by a rival club this season.
More especially given what they are up against on a weekly basis.
Vaulks added: “If I am honest, staying up would be a bigger achievement.
“Coming up from League One will feel better as to win something is success. To do it in the first season after going down after all the changes at the club and the season before was remarkable.
“But if you look at where we rank in the league in budget, squad depth and everything really, the difference between us staying up and going up, we should be a top 10 League One team with the budget and size of the club.
“In the Championship, we are small fish in a big pond with some massive teams and budgets. So I actually think this is a harder task.”
It may be a regular refrain from observers who have watched the Millers this season that their feats have deserved more, but Vaulks for one knows that the time for moral victories is over.
Paul Warne’s men may have been feted for their performance levels against the likes of Wednesday, Sheffield United and plenty of others this season, but they are under no illusions that they are entering the home straight of the campaign where points are the be-all and end-all.
The Millers are also fully aware of a run-in which looks teak-tough on paper but no-one can say that they do not know what they are letting themselves in for.
Vaulks said: “Over the course of the season, anyone who comes and has watched us regularly would say we have deserved more points.
“But at the end of the day, we want to stay up and that is the most important thing. It is getting to the stage now where we are running out of games and if you were to ask anyone – the fans or players – would you take a poor performance with a win, we would and what we need is victories and three points to get us up that table.
“We do not have any other choice but to be in it all together. We are not a good enough individual side to be beating teams. We have to be as a unit and that is the only way we can stay up.”