WHEN the Uniteds of Leeds and Rotherham last met a little over six months ago, there was an unmistakable sense of both teams already having one foot on the beach.
It was not just Steve Evans’s pre-match attire, either, as the Scot delivered on a promise to turn up wearing his flip-flops and a sombrero on the final day if the Millers were already safe.
The holiday feel lent to proceedings had just as much to do with the impression both sides gave during a dreary goalless draw, which suggested attention had already turned to a welcome summer break after a long and often difficult season.
Tomorrow’s meeting, however, will be very different. Not only do the Yorkshire duo badly need the points, but an unusual job swap means the respective managers will be desperate to get one over a former employer.
For Evans, tomorrow’s derby will bring a reunion with a club he led to back-to-back promotions and then Championship safety last term.
“It will be massive,” said the Scot when asked what it will be like tomorrow taking on a club he left just 54 days ago. “I would describe it almost as a loving relationship.
“I have been in love with every club I have managed and I am in love with Leeds United Football Club.
“But Rotherham, as a club, will always be in my heart and I can’t say anything different.
“When I leave this world, some of the special times I had with those supporters, with a great chairman down there and that club in general, will be with me forever more.
“Every game is a big game but, whether it be a player or a coach, when it comes against an old club and one that was there so recently in my life then it adds a little bit extra to it.
“That said, you don’t get any more than three points for winning and a point if you share the spoils.”
Evans will go into tomorrow’s clash buoyed by back-to-back wins over Cardiff City and Huddersfield Town.
In contrast, his successor at Rotherham, Neil Redfearn, has managed to take just one point from his first six games at the helm.
“Neil will arrive on the team coach as a friend of mine and, win, lose or draw we will have a beer,” said Evans.
“One will be happy and one will be sad but he will leave as a friend. I have got no doubt that, over a period of time, Neil Redfearn will do very well at Rotherham United.
“He represents a fantastic football club and he works for a great man.”
An increasing feature of football in recent years has been the reluctance of a player or manager to celebrate against a former club.
Should Leeds score against the Millers tomorrow, however, Evans insists he will not be able to keep check of his emotions.
“I am not going to change,” admitted the United head coach. “I am going to fight and challenge and head and kick every ball.
“I can remember taking Rotherham United down to Crawley Town (who Evans left to join the Millers) and we scored a late goal through a substitute.
“I celebrated the way a manager should celebrate that day, though I don’t think the pitch at Crawley has recovered yet.”
As for what reception he is expecting from those in the away seats to the right of his dugout, Evans added: “I would be hoping I would get a positive reaction from the Rotherham fans.
“They will certainly get applause from me.
“It is the first time I will have seen them and I will be the first to applaud, but what the Rotherham United supporters do in return is of course their decision.
“I will also applaud the Leeds United fans, as they are the team I will be fighting for come 3pm.
“I want to bring the success I had at Rotherham to Elland Road.
“I know what it means to the people in the city here and I know what it means to this football club after being out of that top division since 2004.”
One Leeds player who was largely a bystander during the two victories that preceded the international break was Sam Byram.
The 22-year-old came in for heavy criticism from owner Massimo Cellino last September over his refusal to sign a new contract.
Evans, however, has revealed that talks are on-going over the future of a player who failed to make the bench at Huddersfield.
“I think Sam’s agent and the people at the club who get involved in these matters are talking,” said the Scot. “We will see where that goes.
“All I can do is bring those parties to the table, but as I’ve said to Sam, and I’ll repeat my words, he has to be committed to the football club.
“That can only be a contract extension. He has to do that because I only want players here who are here for a period of time.
“You have to be committed. The other outstanding youngsters are.”