Paul Warne admits he thought Rotherham United were heading for relegation last season as he prepares to go head to head with the man who inspired their miracle escape.
Neil Warnock, now manager at Cardiff City, kept the Millers in the Championship in 2016 by engineering an amazing 11-game unbeaten run during his brief 16-match reign.
But Rotherham caretaker boss Warne, who faces Warnock and the Bluebirds in Wales tomorrow, recalls how the survival saviour took a while to make his mark after his February arrival, failing to win any of his first three fixtures as the club drifted six points off the pace.
“I can remember when he first took over and there wasn’t much change,” Warne said. “I remember a really poor performance at Reading (1-0 defeat) and I just couldn’t see us getting out of it. He had a really good set of players and he got a lot of out those players.
“He got the best of out Grant Ward, he convinced Derbs (Matt Derbyshire) he was a hard-working left winger, which Derbs didn’t think he was.
“He got something out of Besty (Leon Best), (Greg) Halford played really well. It was a pretty archetypal Rotherham 11 who fought very well for him.”
The interim boss, who has been placed in charge until the end of the season, has an even tougher task on his hands than Warnock did, with the Millers bottom of the division and 14 points away from safety.
Warne took the Rotherham hot-seat in November following Kenny Jackett’s shock resignation and, after stabilising the club in their hour of need, could be handed the reins on a permanent basis next term, regardless of what division they are in.
Warne was fitness coach under Warnock, who has taken Cardiff from the drop zone to the top half of the table, and took note of the veteran boss’s spell with the Millers.
“I learned a lot from him,” he admitted. “He was different to what I thought. I thought he was going to be a really hard taskmaster, but he was more of a psychologist and cajoled the players.
“He was really good with them. They wanted to do well for him, but they were also a little bit scared of him because they knew if they crossed him they probably wouldn’t get back in the team again.
“What he did here was amazing. The achievement is something they will talk about for years. I would like to think people will talk about me in the same vein, but at the moment I haven’t done as well as Neil did.”