It’s been a brilliant season for Millers followers whatever comes next. And particularly brilliant away from home, writes Les Payne
That they should round off the regular season with an away win was rather fitting really. Never can so many have enjoyed so much on their travels.
It was away win No 14, the second best in the club’s history. It’s bettered only by the 15 of the 1950/51 title-winning side of legendary names in the old Third Division North, equivalent to a present-day mix of League One and League Two so, you could argue, 2013/14 was the tougher away campaign of the two.
The record season could hardly have been more enjoyable than this one.
No wonder the fans have travelled in numbers this season.
They have seen a team step into the lion’s den and start walking towards the lion rather than backing off.
They’re a team that have been bold and brave. They’ve never bothered with the “let’s keep it tight for 20 minutes” stuff. They’ve been the ones on the front foot, perhaps to the surprise of their opponents, and you don’t score first-minute goals, or the other early ones they have done, without a positive mindset.
The commendable approach to away games has led to some thrilling entertainment.
Any away environment is tough and to have a spell of seven away wins in eight games and a run of 13 away games in which there was just one defeat while winning TEN of them is little short of phenomenal, particularly for a newly-promoted side.
Perhaps there were those who almost began to take for granted the latest away win. Perhaps that word beginning ‘gr’ should be something about grateful.
In all my years covering the club, I cannot recall a more enjoyable away campaign or one that has given such rich entertainment or delivered the numbers of goals it has.
To score 42 goals away from home (joint top with Orient) is incredible. Never has 40 been topped since that ‘50/51 side scored 48, and it was a bit easier to score goals back then.
In the most recent promotion seasons, 2000 and 2001, the away tally in both was 29, the wins tally 11 in both. In the famous (League One) title season under Ian Porterfield in 1980/81, they scored just 19 and won only seven.
I recall writing after Ronnie Moore’s back-to-back promotions and as his unheralded side moved to the top six in The Championship in the second season up, it is a golden era and should be treasured.
The same goes for this season’s away results and the approach and the football that has provided them. Treasure them. Away wins (like home defeats) will always be around but this might well prove a very special away campaign.
Boss Steve Evans has obviously laid down the approach he wants. But it needs players to carry it out and they have been magnificent. Don’t take my word for it. Look at the results and the performances.
Those who believe attack is the best form of defence will put forward this Rotherham United lot as irrefutable evidence.
Yes, they have had the not-so-good. First half at Orient; the (for me) poorest of the lot at Port Vale; a dour, dull affair at Colchester and a team and a performance I didn’t recognise at Bramall Lane and which will continue to puzzle me until they play there again next season.
I shouldn’t imagine they’ll be ordered into their shell when they get to Deepdale next Saturday tea-time although any experienced play-off watchers will tell you it will be as much about defence as attack in these sort of games.
Preston will, rightly, be nervous of what this side is capable of producing. Whether the Millers live or die by their approach, it won’t be dull judged on what we’ve seen so far.
The final league game at Swindon certainly wasn’t dull.
I’ve never much been a fan of the phrase, “nothing to play for”. There’s a game to win, for goodness sake, and there were two teams out there striving to win this one.
There were necessary changes for the Millers and Wes Thomas looked as lively as he ever has done in his 45 minutes, sparked by a well-taken goal in just 55 seconds after James Tavernier slid a pass forward with Lee Frecklington getting a little touch along the way.
Thomas looked to have won a penalty when Branco, tackling from the ‘wrong side’, knocked him over, which forced the falling striker to knock the ball to the keeper. Then Frecklington fired a clear ten-yard chance over.
The second goal on 22 minutes was a ‘peach’.
Thomas knocked it out to Ben Pringle and headed off towards the area. Tom Hitchcock’s intelligent movement towards the front post inevitably lured a defender with him, opening up space towards the far post where Thomas arrived on cue to leap and despatch one of those Pringle crosses that has the little label ‘Quality’ dangling from it.
A Jack Stephens header he should have scored was a lucky Millers escape just before half-time but it was the second half where Swindon really tested them - and I hope Preston don’t get as any many chances or as easily as those Michael Smith spurned here.
He struck home a 59th-minute spot-kick and there was a let off when Jay McEveley rattled the bar from a 70th-minute corner.
Swindon, while remaining bright and lively, tailed off a bit after that. Kieran Agard, very lively after his half-time entrance, was denied the most obvious of penalties when the keeper downed him after the striker nudged the ball away.
So, the final league game and the end of a long journey, at least for the bloke writing this. Just two more games guaranteed - a bit of overtime after that would be very nice indeed!
Hero: Wes Thomas. Staked his play-off claim with his double and a lively 45 minutes. His first goal in 55 seconds wasn’t quite up with Kieran Agard’s 13-second one at Gillingham but was sharply taken. The second one he started and finished in style.