Rotherham United boss Steve Evans has a saying … “Never let your eyes tell you lies.”
That means that when he comes to pick his team for the Championship clash at AFC Bournemouth on Saturday there are some things you can guarantee:
The fact that Matt Derbyshire has scored goals in the Premier League will count for nothing.
Alex Revell’s second goal in last May’s League One Play-off Final truly was a Wembley wonder but is now just a past glory.
Jordan Bowery’s top-flight pedigree with Aston Villa doesn’t guarantee him anything.
New signing Luciano Becchio’s scoring record in the Championship really is superb but it’s what he does with Rotherham that matters.
And fellow new boy Jonson Clarke-Harris may now be the fastest thing wearing a Millers badge since Evans’ mad dash down the Wembley touchline but he needs to look good in training.
For Evans will select his side on what he sees this week, not on players’ past deeds.
When he says “competition is fierce, nobody is guaranteed to start”, he means it. Reputations count for nothing.
After 17 summer arrivals, if you look at the squad now compared to the one which started out in League One just over a year ago, the difference is frightening. The Millers manager has assembled a squad of genuine Championship quality, with options running right through the line-up.
The frontline has five players competing for two places.
In midfield Paul Taylor, Paul Green, Lee Frecklington, Richie Smallwood, Ben Pringle, Febian Brandy, Ryan Hall and Anthony Wordsworth have all featured in varying degrees this season in the league.
At the back, Craig Morgan has carried on where he left off last season, Joe Skarz has been a quietly-effective 7/10 performer and centre-half Kirk Broadfoot has competed manfully at right-back in the absence of Frazer Richardson who looked a class act in pre-season before suffering an injury.
I haven’t seen a better centre-half in the league than Kari Arnason so far, and Richard Wood is a proven Championship performer desperate for a regular start.
Some talented players are going to miss out. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, I’m glad I don’t have to pick the team.
It doesn’t bother Evans. “It doesn’t make my life difficult. It makes it simple,” he said of the club’s strength in depth. “You can only pick your team honestly.”
This is the man who at various times has jettisoned Ryan Cresswell, Johnny Mullins, Daniel Nardiello and Michael O’Connor, all fans’ favourites, when he thought the time was right. The club emerged stronger every time.
He picks with his eyes, not with his heart.
Rotherham have made an encouraging start to life in the second tier. Had they had a little more of the rub of the green, their points tally could easily be in double figures rather than the six they have amassed in five games so far.
After a nervy start, the Millers were worth a point at promotion favourites Derby on opening day.
In the first ever Championship match at New York Stadium - and what an occasion that was - they were lucky to collect all three points against a dangerous, free-passing Wolves side. The victory was down to an heroic defensive effort, but let’s not forget Revell was denied a clear penalty and Taylor hit the bar before Hall popped up with the winner.
Three days later, they lost 2-0 to two late goals at home to Watford, but destroyed their illustrious opponents in the first half with their best football of the season. They could, and should, have been at least two goals to the good by half-time.
Then came Millwall away. What a great place to play and watch football. A partisan, at times downright nasty, South-east London crowd, bayed for a home win with a boiling, seething mix of deep-rooted support for their men and open hositility for the visitors. Curses and swearwords rained down on Evans and his defiant men who stuck up two fingers in return with Pringle’s deserved winner.
Brentford at home was the biggest disappointment so far, a 2-0 defeat not a true reflection of the game. Brentford had a striker signed from non-league, Andre Gray, who bent in a ‘worldie’ to give his side the lead. Rotherham had a striker who has proved his worth in the top flight, but Derbyshire missed a one-on-one with the keeper.
On such fine margins do games at this level turn.
It’s worth noting that all five of the Millers’ opponents so far sit in the top eight of the table.
The Millers have been competitive in every match but haven’t been able to finish enough of the chances they’ve created.
Cue Evans’ last-day action in the transfer window, bringing in two new strikers with minutes to spare.
And remember … since that unlucky loss to the Bees Richardson, Green and Hall have all returned to training after injury, and skipper Morgan could be back for Saturday too.
Evans knows there is work still do. The Millers have done well in spells. At other times they have suffered as opponents have kept possession better and for longer.
“Our task on a weekly basis, every time we step over the white line, is going to be a real challenge to us,” he said. “We’ve taken to it so far, and we’re going to embrace it and go forward.
“I look at the fixture list in this division and there isn’t a single match for us that doesn’t excite me.”
A big plus point has been the defensive discipline - Rotherham haven’t carried as much attacking menace as last season yet but have look more solid at the back - and the spirit which earned them back-to-back promotions is still very much in evidence.
Even bigger challenges lie ahead as, shortly, the Millers embark on a run of seven consecutive matches against teams who have played in the Premier League.
But task one, which was to show they belong at this level, has been accomplished.
Your eyes would be telling you lies if you disagreed with that.