Neil Warnock is drawing on memories from 23 years ago to help him inspire Rotherham United’s Great Escape.
The new boss has 15 matches in which to make up a five-point gap between the drop zone and safety and keep the third-bottom Millers in the Championship.
Rotherham travel to promotion contenders Burnley tomorrow and have a daunting run of fixtures against top sides coming up, but events at Torquay in 1993 prove what their manager, installed a week ago today, is capable of.
He joined the seasiders in the basement division with 17 games to go and pulled off a survival miracle.
“I remember it well,” recalled Warnock who had taken Notts County to the top flight only two seasons earlier. “People said: ‘You can’t go to Torquay. They could get kicked out of the league and it will be on your CV.’
“Do you know, the players there went through brick walls for me and it was one of the happiest times of my life.”
Warnock, who signed winger Jerome Thomas this week and plans further recruitment, sees similarities in the spirit of his Devon squad and that of the players he has inherited at AESSEAL New York Stadium from previous boss Neil Redfearn.
“They were a genuine bunch, and these are a genuine bunch,” he said. “They know we can get out of this, but they know they have to do the things we want them to do.
“It will take every player giving me everything to stay up. We can use the underdog status in most of the games between now and the end of the season and I think we can cause a few upsets.
“I went to Torquay because I fancied it. Like here ... I fancy it.”
The Millers drew Warnock’s first match in charge 0-0 against Birmingham City last Saturday and have Thomas in contention tomorrow, while loan midfielder Andrew Shinnie is available after missing out against his parent club, striker Leon Best could be ready for his first action since November and skipper Lee Frecklington is approaching fitness.
Rotherham are five points adrift of Bristol City who occupy the final safety spot and Warnock is well aware of the scale of the challenge facing him and managerial sidekick Kevin Blackwell.
“You look at the fixtures and the size of the club, you look at everything required to do it, and staying up would be on a par with any of my seven promotions,” he said. “Football people would say I’m mad to take it on.
The Millers are giving a trial to former Watford defender Lloyd Doyley, who played more than 400 matches for the Hornets and who offers experience in both full-back positions and at centre-half.
The 33-year-old was with Warnock at QPR earlier in the season and impressed for Rotherham’s reserve side when they drew 1-1 with Scunthorpe United on Tuesday.
“He’s come up to be with us for a while,” the manager confirmed. “He came to QPR when I was there. He’s a good pro and we’ll have another look at him. I think he’s just lacking a little bit of match fitness at the minute but we’ll see him in training.”
Warnock believes his and Blackwell’s arrival has boosted the club in their hour of need, after successive defeats against relegation rivals Charlton Athletic and Bolton Wanderers cost Redfearn his job.
“I did fear the worst, to be honest, looking from the outside,” the 67-year-old said. “I think us coming has given things a lift.
“Against the lesser teams, you’ve got to be spot on. Players have to know how important those games are because if you go out and you’re not ready for a fight you’ll get turned over, whereas against the top teams you already know you’re in for a fight.”
He knows his players, on their day, can give most sides in the second tier a game.
Their scalps this season have included high-flying Birmingham, Hull City and Brighton, and the boss of the beaten Seagulls, who lost their unbeaten league away record 2-0 at New York in January, was quick to contact the new Millers man when his appointment was announced.
“I got a text from Chris Hughton,” Warnock revealed. “It said: ‘Not that bad, Neil. They battered us.’”