Richie Smallwood’s face said it all when he discovered someone in the Millwall camp was predicting that when it came to Championship survival Rotherham United would “bottle it”.
A look of quiet anger and steely determination came across the midfielder as the words of Lions striker Lee Gregory were relayed to him on the eve of tonight’s home clash with Reading when the Millers will guarantee their second-tier safety if they win.
Said Gregory, whose team occupy the third and final relegation spot, a point behind Smallwood and co: “I’ll definitely be watching at home and hopefully Reading can do the business. Hopefully Rotherham will bottle it on the last day of the season and we get a win at Wolves. I don’t think we will get relegated. I think we will pull out of it, I really do.”
Smallwood hit back: “Hopefully Lee Gregory can sit back at home and watch us win. That’s the only way to answer that.”
Rotherham boss Steve Evans also got in on the act.
“We dismiss the comments,” he said. “We note them but we dismiss them. And we have to prove a point now, don’t we?”
Win tonight and the Millers stay up. If they don’t, it goes down to a last-day decider, with Rotherham at Leeds United and Millwall travelling to Wolves.
Evans added at yesterday’s press conference: “I hear stories from South London that Millwall are going to go and win at Wolves on Saturday and all sorts of nonsense.
“We woke up this morning to some South London media headlines saying we’re going to bottle it. That’s a strong statement and we’ll only know the answer to that come 10 o’clock tomorrow night.
“I think people try to play mind games. I would rather, if it was my player, he was focused on their game that comes on Saturday. They can’t affect what we do tomorrow night. That will come down to Rotherham United and Reading.”
Tonight’s clash, described by Evans as the biggest ever game at AESSEAL New York Stadium, is heading for a sell-out, with home fans expected to occupy all four sides of the ground, and the Millers manager is calling on supporters to recreate the fevered backing they gave in the 1-1 draw with Norwich City at the weekend.
“Against Norwich, for spells in the second half when we went behind, the fans took the decibels and the atmosphere to a new level for me,” he said. “Some of our players were talking about the hairs on their neck going up such was the atmosphere. We ask once again for the Rotherham public to come out, get behind us and give us an atmosphere.”
The Millers would already be safe but for their three-point deduction imposed by the Football League for fielding an ineligible player, and Smallwood revealed the players are using their sense of injustice to inspire them.
“It’s given us a little bit of extra motivation but we’re a motivated group anyway,” he said. Without the deduction we’d have been safe already, but we deal with it and take it on the chin. We’ve got two big games left to get the three points that were taken off us.”
As for the fan who will pack New York tonight, be warned what Evans, famed for his celebrations two years ago when Rotherham clinched promotion to League One, might have in store if his side get the result they crave.
“The tie coming off?” he grinned. “The danger is the shirt coming off.”