Rotherham United: Night to remember as Millers crank up pressure on Leeds United through Alex Revell and Jonson Clarke-Harris

Alex Revell scores against Leeds
Alex Revell scores against Leeds

Manager Steve Evans, as he always does, spoke concisely and persuasively after Rotherham United’s Yorkshire-derby heroics against Leeds United.

But it was the words of the boss in the opposing camp which really told the story of what the Millers had just achieved on an electric Friday night at a sold-out New York Stadium.

“We tried to play with good possession, but in the second half it was extremely difficult against a hard, aggressive, strong home team,” said head coach Darko Milanic.

Then he paused ...

“Not every game is like this.”

But then not every team is like Rotherham United.

Evans’ men pushed themselves towards midtable in their first season in the Championship the hard way, coming from behind to win 2-1 with two goals during a riveting second half which bore all the hallmarks of last season’s promotion campaign when the all-action Millers would relentlessly press teams into submission.

Listen to this from Milanic.

“Towards the end of the first half they began with long balls and crosses from all areas and they made a lot of pressure. We were prepared in the second half to play against this pressure. We had some problems in midfield with the pressure from them.”

How often does he use the word, ‘pressure’?

Phase one of the Millers’ Championship development programme has been accomplished: they have adapted to the second tier and proved they belong in this company. The last three games have brought deserved wins over Blackburn and Leeds either side of a draw at promotion favourites Norwich City.

New signings like Paul Green and Frazer Richardson have added extra quality to a side still largely made up of players who served the club so well in League Two and, crucially, the unremitting work ethic, belief in each other and refusal to yield are as strong as they ever were.

Evans’s turn to speak ...

“Spirit is not something in your dressing room that you can go out and buy, You have to harness it,” he said.

“If people think that over the years Steve Evans is about ranting and raving in the dressing rooms and training grounds then they don’t know what’s inside the camp, do they? We’ve had the number of promotions we’ve had as a management team, especially here, because we develop a siege mentality, we develop a will to win and we develop a desire.

“You go into the dressing room 1-0 down to Leeds at half-time. You don’t pull the players apart. You try to inspire them.

“You tell them about one or two things that have gone wrong. If you look at the goal they scored, it was Frazer Richardson who stepped up when he shouldn’t have stepped up. There’s no point going in their and slamming the guy; he’s been excellent for us since he walked through the door.”

Friday’s illustrious visitors from Elland Road rallied towards the end but had been left reeling by the Millers’ onslaught. For a long spell a third goal for Rotherham looked likely, to go with a deserved first of the season for Sky TV man of the match Alex Revell and a memorable first for the club for record signing Jonson Clarke-Harris on his home debut.

Harris took possession near the halfway line, ran into space as the Leeds rearguard dropped off and unleashed an unstoppable 25-yard shot full of venom and late swerve. Not a bad way to introduce yourself to a delirious home crowd.

“The fans were really loud from both sides. Our fans were amazing from start to finish. They were behind the boys,” he said.

“I’m really just glad to make my home debut, score a goal and get the three points as well.

“I think it was my first touch. Not a bad one! I knew what I was going to do as soon as I could see the space. I keep getting told to shoot. I shot, it’s gone in the back of the net, so I’m buzzing. Very happy. For me, that’s very special.”

And, for Evans, Clarke-Harris could be very special too.

“I think people should remember his name. I think he’s a special talent. We beat some big, bigs in the Championship to recruit Jonson’s services because we were desperately keen,” he said.

“We think he is a development project. He’s certainly not ready-made. But he’s got all the attributes in terms of physicality, football ability and other stuff. We need to harness all that together.”

And he also had a word for the workhorse striker who has done as much as any player under his stewardship in the last two and a half years to help the Millers elevate their status.

“We’ll be signing another striker shortly to give Alex Revell another little bit of competition,” Evans smiled. “But every time we bring someone in, Alex rises and has been the strike partner.”

The Millers have options too.

They were able to introduce Paul Taylor for Ryan Hall at half-time on the right wing and Leeds couldn’t handle his trickery while midfielder Richard Smallwood, fit again after a hamstring niggle, was the perfect man to bring on to add defensive solidity when they needed to protect their lead.

Evans is serious about making a new loan signing, possibly two, now that hitman Luciano Becchio has been ruled out long term with a fractured heel.

“We’d like to bring a couple of players in, but perhaps there needs to be a couple go out on loan,” he said. “There is no player leaving on a permanent basis but we need some players to go and have five or six weeks of football and be back for the important Christmas period.”

But the man himself is going nowhere.

“I love working for the chairman (Tony Stewart), and it’s why I’ve recently turned down interest from other clubs,” he revealed. “I want to be a part of what we’re doing here and making it another special season - and, going forward, beyond this season - for the Millers support who have embraced me from the minute I walked in.

“We’ve had recent interest but it’s on a confidential basis. My chairman knows about these things. We talk every day and it’s great. He knows how committed I am to the job.”

Tomorrow night comes another huge test, a home clash with rejuvenated Fulham. That’s Fulham of the Premier League last season, a team contesting the Europa Cup Final only four years ago and the side who toppled leaders Norwich on Saturday.

But, for now, time to savour Friday’s night of glory one last time.

“I think, if everyone is honest, in football first and foremost you do it for yourself. But you also do it for your players and you do it equally as much for the chairman and our supporters,” Evans said.

“I’ve travelled the country many times watching Championship games and been envious of the support Leeds United have because they’ve taken over away grounds.

“But they didn’t take over our ground. They’ve come and sung their hearts out and given their team some fantastic backing.

“But the Millers supporters here are very special.

“With the acoustics and the way the stadium has been built and developed by our chairman, it probably sounds to our players that there are 35,000 of them tonight.”

A club and its fans in perfect harmony. And a management team whose essence can be summed up better this time by Evans rather than Mr Milanic ...

“We just ask people to go out and die for us. Most importantly, they know we’d die for them.”