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This week will be the second legs of the League One playoffs with Leyton Orient, Peterborough, Preston and Rotherham all still will a chance to make it to Wembley.
There will be one man social media will be looking to shout about come 7:45 on Thursday, as Steve Evans, one of the Football Leagues most hated men takes to the side lines for the Millers home game against PNE.
It’s understandable for fans to dislike Evans. His antics whilst at Crawley and Boston both on and off the pitch more than likely warranted the abuse he received, with Journalist and former ‘footballer’ Adrian Clarke calling him a “nasty, poisonous little man”. Two years on from that comment and Steve Evans is a changed man, he has calmed, matured and progressed as a manager, but he is still the man fans love to hate.
After leaving Boston in 2007, Evans became manager of Crawley Town. After years of financial troubles a takeover of Crawley gave Evans money to spend, bringing in League One and League Two standard players, essentially buying promotion. Something we all seem to hate in football, unless it’s our own club.
His first full season (2011/12) in the Football League was just as good for Evans; building on the team he developed a promotion winning side, who won back to back promotions. Something Evans didn’t actually get to see at Crawley that season.
After another poor season, League Two Rotherham sacked manager Andy Scott, and in the eyes of the Millers chairman, there was only one man who could do the job. In April 2012, 6 games away from winning promotion to League One with Crawley, Steve Evans became manager of RUFC.
His arrival didn’t go without complaints from the Millers faithful, including myself. I ate the most delicious humble pie following promotion last April, and it couldn’t have tasted any better. Yet, fans like me at the time couldn’t lose. We disliked the man and didn’t want him in our club. If he didn’t get the results he would have gone and we would have been happy. If the team did well then we would too be happy. It was a win-win for the fans. What has followed has been an incredible 2 seasons for RUFC fans.
Last season (2012/13) the club moved away from the Don Valley Stadium and into its iconic new home, the New York Stadium (Named after the land it was built upon). With attendances increasing by over 100%, it allowed Evans to bring in players capable of promotion, and clear the dross left by Andy Scott.
A long season ensued with the Millers winning their last 5 games to finally get out of the bottom tier after years of what can only be described as hell on earth. It didn’t come without a few ‘What is he doing?’ moments. The main ‘oh no’ moment was when he loaned the club captain Johnny Mullins to a rival.
However in true Steve Evans style he brought him back to captain the side to that great finish, whilst scoring in the game to send the Miller up. Evans doesn’t play dumb with players, and he expects the utmost from them. Any distractions, any player that feels he doesn’t need to try, and anyone who thought they knew better would be shown the door. You could be the clubs top striker, or the club captain. Except Danny Schofield, he just won’t leave.
Through this method he has created a team that appears to have bonded perfectly both on and off the pitch, which was clear earlier last week with the entire squad heading for some paint-balling, management included. The rapport between everyone at RUFC is quite something and one of the reasons they have achieved so much. Nobody gives less than 100%, even on an off day. They graft, they fight and they will go to the end, and we have seen that in abundance this season, with late goals coming time and time again.
For me personally, this season was Evans first true test of whether he was a good manager or not. He’s had the money, and now Rotherham were in a division with Wolves, Brentford, Sheff Utd and other big clubs. It was a big test of his and the players’ character and ability. Throughout the season opposition managers called us “direct”. They were also adamant we wouldn’t make it to the playoffs, with MK Dons management stating RUFC didn’t deserve to be there even though they were 19 points clear of 7th place.
Yet, there is now no doubt this now calm and almost reserved man has a true talent, with other clubs taking an interest. Evans snubbed an offer from Sheffield Wednesday earlier in the season. As a manager he is not afraid to change things, he is not afraid to admit he made a mistake, he is a superb man-manager and he isn’t afraid to show his tactical brain when it’s needed too. Port Vale found this out in late April. After going into half time a man down at 0-0, Evans changed his side to a 3-3-3 formation and the Millers won the game 1-0, with his assistant Paul Raynor even believing he had gone mad at half time.
RUFC go to the second leg against Preston drawing 1-1 in an affair not many can pull a winner from. Everything Evans does will be vital, and I can’t wait. One thing is for sure, he will not be the centre of attention. Unless Sky Sports decide he is.
From all fans at RUFC I can only thank Steve Evans for his commitment to the club, his passion for the game, bringing a smile back to my face on a Saturday evening and hopefully the second back to back promotion for Rotherham United since the early 2000’s. No matter what your opinion on him is, he has produced something special at Rotherham United, and whatever the outcome of the playoffs, this season has been the most enjoyable for the fans in a very long time. For that, thank you Mr. Evans.