Canny boss Paul Warne is turning to anger management in a bid to bring out the best in Rotherham United enigma Joe Newell.
Midfielder Newell is arguably the most talented player in the Millers camp but his inconsistency has seen him used for much of the season as an impact substitute.
Now, Warne is ready to hand him a league One start at Oxford United tomorrow, believing the 24-year-old will rise to the challenge of having a point to prove.
“I love Joe,” the manager said. “I’ve said to him, he plays his best when he’s angry. Whether that means I have to punch him in the face before he goes out, I don’t know!”
Newell came on at AFC Wimbledon in the second half in midweek, scored a wonder-goal and turned the game in Rotherham’s favour before two late defensive lapses cost the visitors a point.
“I thought he was excellent,” Warne said. “It would be naive of me not to want to play him. I’d be amazed if he isn’t in the team on Saturday.”
Warne wants the midfield man to show from the start the kind of form that he often produces as a replacement. He was calling the player into his office yesterday afternoon to urge him to make the most of his opportunity.
“I don’t think Joe plays bad when he starts a game. It’s just that, sometimes, when he comes on as a sub and the game is stretched, he’s unbelievable,” the boss said.
“It’s a big pitch at Oxford. If he does start, I’d like to think he’ll start the game well. But I also need to have that conversation with him that if he doesn’t start the game well, he aint going to last long.
“He sort of thrives off proving people wrong. Richie (No 2 Barker) and I were pulling his leg about how quick he looked when he came on at Wimbledon. He replied: ‘Yeah, everyone thinks I’m really slow.’
“He’s not. His running style make him look a bit ‘Chrissie Waddle’-ish. ‘Languid’ is a good word. I wouldn’t say he’s rapid - he’s not a Jon Taylor - but he is pretty mobile.
“If he starts the way he is when he comes on as a sub, he can be unplayable. If you drop out of the team here, it can be hard to get back in. When you come on a sub, you have to be better than the rest if you want to force your way back in. Newelly was definitely that at Wimbledon.”
The fourth-placed Millers face a tough test at the Kassam Stadium against a U’s side who are only two points behind them in the table.
Warne could make more changes after the defeat at the Dons where several players failed to do themselves justice.
“I need to pick the team like my life depends on it every game,” he said. “I will scrutinine everything. If I think changing the left-back and playing three at the back is right, I’ll do it. If I think changing the goalkeeper will help us win a game, I’ll do it.
“They’re not easy decisions to make. I can’t say I enjoy making them. But I’ll definitely look at everything to get us the best possible 11 out there on Saturday.”