Steve Evans insists Crawley Town will be favourites when he brings his Rotherham Utd side to the Broadfield this Saturday.
The much-anticipated League One clash sees the colourful Scot and assistant Paul Raynor return for the first time since leaving Reds to join the Millers 16 months ago.
As if the animated Glaswegian’s presence in the away dug-out wasn’t enough of a sideshow, current Crawley boss Richie Barker had two spells at Rotherham, while turning out for the visitors will be former Reds Claude Davis, goalkeeper Scott Shearer and goal-king Matt Tubbs, who Reds were interesting in re-signing before he headed north on loan and who Evans says could start on the bench.
“The way both teams are playing I wouldn’t be surprised if it finished 5-5,” Evans, 50, said. “But I’d say Crawley are the favourites because they’re at home, they beat a good Coventry side and then came within 30 seconds of winning away at Tranmere.”
During his five-year reign Evans established himself as one of Crawley’s most successful managers, guiding them into the Football League and to the gates of Old Trafford in the Fifth Round of the FA Cup, before leaving to take charge of Rotherham with Reds poised for promotion to League One.
Saying he expected a warm reception from the Crawley fans, he insisted: “Despite what’s being said this game isn’t about Steve Evans, Paul Raynor or anyone else, it’s about winning a football match and we’ll prepare like we would any other game.
“But I am very much looking forward to going back. I watched a couple of matches last season and I’ve got the utmost respect for everyone at Crawley, the fans are fantastic and I’m still in regular contact with the owners, who are brilliant people and were wonderful to me while I was manager. I’ll always love Crawley Town and I’ll never forget the times I had there, I’m extremely proud of what we managed to achieve.”
Like Crawley, Evans’ side go into Saturday unbeaten in League One having drawn their opening two games, while in between they also beat local rivals Sheffield Wednesday in the Capital One Cup.
High profile new additions such as strikers Tubbs and Danny Hylton, as well as Crawley target David Worrall has led many to tip The Millers for another promotion, something Evans was quick to play down. “When I arrived the club were mid-table and getting out of League 2 is tough, so going up last season was a fantastic achievement and anywhere we finish in League One will represent progress,” he said.
And he added: “I’d say we’re in a similar place to Crawley, they have 12 months more experience in League One and both budgets are similar so I can see us finishing within a few points of each other.”
Saturday’s match will bring about opposing styles from two very different types of manager, and Evans said of Barker: “I don’t really know him personally, I only came up against him once in the FA Cup while he was at Bury. But he’s put his own stamp on the place and got some very talented players. Finishing tenth was a fantastic achievement and they look like carrying that on this season.”
Evans also backed frontman Tubbs - who plundered 49 goals in 61 games for Crawley - to rediscover his form after a tough time at Bournemouth, but added: “He’s not guaranteed to start, he had a few niggles during pre season and he looked a bit tired on Saturday.”