Rotherham United are absolutely flying and an incredible run of form has made automatic promotion a distinct possibility.
But can Rovers invade and spoil the growing party at the New York Stadium?
We spoke to Paul Davis of The Star in Sheffield about how the Millers are shaping up heading into the derby.
Q: Things certainly seem to be going well for the Millers at the moment. What were the expectations going into this season?
Paul Davis: Manager Paul Warne’s aim at the start of the season was a top-10 finish and consolidation in League One after the horrors of last year’s relegation from the Championship. That was seen as a sensible and realistic target. The playing side of the club needed rebuilding. It’s gone a little better than expected!
Q: What have been the reasons for this incredible run of form?
PD: The Millers were in the top six for a while early in the season, then suffered a dip as they went eight games without a win. The turning point was Blackpool away on December 9. Rotherham were 1-0 down at half-time and things looked bleak. Warne changed things at half-time and went 4-4-2. The Millers came back to win 2-1, have stuck with 4-4-2 and haven’t lost since. It’s a tightly-bonded squad with real spirit. Good human beings only in Warne’s world! Recruitment in the summer and January was good and Rotherham have got better and better as the unbeaten run has gone on.
Q: Is automatic promotion now a realistic aim?
PD: Never say never, but I don’t think so. There are three clubs - Shrewsbury Town, Wigan Athletic and Blackburn Rovers - above Rotherham. One might come back to the chasing pack but I can’t see two falling away. There is no doubt, though, that the Millers are the division’s most dangerous side at the moment. They toppled leaders Shrewsbury on their own patch last Saturday and were easily the better team.
Q: What style of play and system does Paul Warne favour?
PD: Rotherham have scored in every one of their last 26 outings. They like to attack! They press high, hassle the opposition into giving the ball away and then go forward from all angles. The number of crosses they put into the box is unbelievable. They’ve also tightened up defensively. The number of goals they were shipping was a real early-season concern, but they’ve sorted that since Semi Ajayi and Richard Wood came together at centre-half. They’re strong in the middle and out wide and never stop running and working. There’s no fitter team in the division.
Q: Who are the key men?
PD: There are key men everywhere. Will Vaulks and Richie Towell have been dominating midfield, while 6ft 4in targetman Michael Smith has teamed up well with the skilful David Ball since arriving from Bury in January. Wingers Anthony Forde and Joe Newell are in the form of their lives, and Rotherham have game-changing options on the bench. It’s a real team affair.
Q: How do Rotherham fans see this derby? I’d imagine the mood is particularly positive heading into this match.
PD: It will be a sell-out and the fact it’s a derby gives the contest an extra edge. The players believe they can beat anybody and that’s a view the supporters share. Warne and his squad aren’t daft, though. They’re fully aware that Doncaster won’t lie down. There has been no hint of Millers complacency as they’ve taken 33 points from a possible 39. They’re a much better side than the one that drew 1-1 at the Keepmoat Stadium in November.
PD: Rotherham are 13 games unbeaten and they’ve won their last six matches. The run has to end at some stage and derby games don’t always go according to form, so it might be much closer than a lot of people think. The Millers won’t under-estimate Rovers, but if Warne’s men are ‘on it’ they should win.