Rotherham United: Calm after the storm for Millers survivor Steve Evans

Millers manager Steve Evans celebrates safey. Minus tie!
Millers manager Steve Evans celebrates safey. Minus tie!
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He spent the days leading up to the most important match of the season threatening to wear a sombrero in his garden if his side won and making repeated public calls for Rotherham United followers to raise the roof at AESSEAL New York Stadium.

He spent the immediate aftermath of that game, against Reading, delirously whirling his tie around his head in front of thousands of celebrating fans, sharing boisterous laughs with the press, threatening to drink 12 bottles of pink champagne and telling the striker who had annoyed him in the build-up to “keep your trap shut”.

Then, with Championship survival secured, Millers manager Steve Evans quietly went home.

After an exhausting nine-month campaign and the fightback from the crushing blow of a three-point Football League deduction just when the battle against relegation had been seemingly won, he’d finally had enough of the pressure.

“After Reading the chairman was very surprised that I didn’t go for a glass of wine,” Evans revealed.

“I went straight home. When I drove out of the ground there were still supporters walking out of the car-park.

“It was just go home and think ‘phew’ because the pressure was intense and it was even more intense because of the points deduction.”

Click here for the lessons learned by Millers boss Steve Evans

The points loss - imposed by the FL after Rotherham had unwittingly fielded an ineligible player in the Easter-Monday victory over Brighton - had plunged the Millers into relegation trouble after they had been on the brink of safety.

Their response was emphatic. They never lost a game after the League delivered their verdict, sealing their safety with a 2-1 triumph over the Royals amid chaotic scenes at a packed New York where Evans’ famously rebuked Millwall centre-forward Lee Gregory for questioning the Millers’ bottle.

Lee Frecklington scores against Reading

Lee Frecklington scores against Reading

Evans’ men used their sense of injustice to fuel their final push for survival, but the deduction took a personal toll on their manager.

“I could never put into words how hurt I was with that because I knew how hard it made our task,” he admitted.

The spirit shown by the Millers surprised nobody who has followed the club since Evans rode into town with No 2 Paul Raynor three seasons ago to lead them from League Two to the second tier.

And that attitutude - allied to up to “six or seven” quality signings Evans intends to make over the summer - will underpin their efforts to build on this year’s achievements by becoming a club with possible play-off pretensions next season.

“The one thing you learn when you work for (chairman) Tony Stewart and Rotherham United is you pull the rope in the same direction or you go,” he said.

“We know what it takes for this club to be successful. We live in a hotbed of football under the umbrellas of Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United and for us to come above those umbrellas and see the sunshine we have to over-perform on the pitch.”

Rotherham’s ability to beat the odds as they operated on one of the smaller budgets in the division didn’t go unnoticed around the Championships, where, one or two blips apart, their unrelenting work ethic and pressing game gave most teams a difficult test.

“There weren’t many matches where we got a doing - probably Wolves at home, and we won it! Reading away (3-0 defeat) was the worst we played in the Championship,” Evans recalled.

“Wolves away could have finished 6-6 but we lost 5-0. It was the strangest game in the world. I was having a glass of wine with their manager, Kenny Jackett, afterwards and his first words were ‘that could have been 6-6’ as he walked through the door. ‘It wasn’t, Kenny,’ I replied. ‘It was 5-0 to you!’.

“Going towards the end of the season - and Norwich said it, their manager, Alex Neil, said it to me privately before and after the game - Norwich were fighting for automatic promotion and the one fixture they didn’t want was Rotherham away.

“That was the same with Reading’s Stevie Clarke. He said they came out of Wembley (narrow FA Cup semi-final defeat to Arsenal) and couldn’t motivate the players for a home game with Birmingham where the ground was half-empty, played Brentford, which was a bit of a local derby, and the last game they wanted following that was going up to Rotherham on a Tuesday night.

“And how well did we play against Reading when we beat them 2-1? The fact that they beat Derby 3-0 away in their next game shows how well we played.”

That home success over Clarke’s side was arguably the best of all the great nights New York has witnessed, with nearly 12,000 Millers fans filling all four sides of the stadium and many staying on afterwards for a party on the pitch.

Evans described staying up as his biggest achievement as a manager, and interesting that the man renowned for putting football and his quest for success before everything else in his life should choose such an important hour to show his human side.

After that initial surge of tie-waving euphoria, there was only one person with whom he wanted to share those first warm, contented moments of reflection.

Daughter Nicole, who had travelled up from the Evans family home further south, watched the game from the kop and now made the journey to Evans’ Rotherham residence with her Old Man

“She is the closest person to me,” he said. “She knows what Daddy goes through more than anybody.”

No more sleepless nights, no more unremitting tension, no more body-blows from authority. Not until next season at least! Just father/daughter time.

‘Phew’ indeed.