Rotherham United: Farewell after three years ... Millers 1 Derby County 1

Paul Warne instructs his players during the game against Derby
Paul Warne instructs his players during the game against Derby
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It started against Derby County, it ended against Derby County.

In between, there were three years in the Championship for Rotherham United, 136 league matches, six managers, two seasons of battling for their lives and a relegation campaign which, to everyone’s relief, has now finally come to a close.

Congratulations for scorer Lee Frecklington

Congratulations for scorer Lee Frecklington

Of the 18 Millers in the matchday squad for the 1-0 defeat at the iPro Stadium in front of 2,700 travelling fans on August 9 2014, only three remain with the club: Lee Frecklington, Kirk Broadfoot and Richard Wood.

Frecklington scored the goal that brought a point at New York Stadium against the Rams. It didn’t mask the crushing disappointments of 2016/17 but it at least meant the Millers ended a season of woe in encouraging fashion.

Three draws, two narrow defeats and a win since Paul Warne took the hot-seat permanently last month following four months in caretaker charge is better than anything that had gone before.

“I’m pretty chuffed how we’ve finished, to be honest,” said Warne. “It does give me a bit of hope.”

THE GAME

Frecklington grabbed the goal and gave away a penalty, but the game hinged on a moment involving striker Jonson Clarke-Harris, one of several out-of-contract players hearing over the next couple of days whether they will be given new deals.

With the Millers 1-0 ahead, Clarke-Harris broke clear and could have played in Tom Adeyemi with a simple pass.

Looking for a chance to get a shot of his own away, he delayed fatally, and the opportunity was gone. Not long afterwards, seven minutes from time, Will Hughes tumbled in Rotherham’s penalty area and Tom Ince did the rest from the spot.

“On another day, Jono might have slipped it through to Tom,” Warne said. “There’s a good chance he would have scored and it would have been 2-0, which would have been unbelievable.

“I’m not disappointed. I’d have taken that before the game. I didn’t set the team out to draw.

“I set them out to frustrate the opposition and then counter-attack because, player for player, they’ve got a little bit more than us.

“I can’t complain about the lads’ worth ethic. We kept Derby to very few chances. They didn’t really rip us open much.”

Adeyemi was one on one with Derby goalkeeper Scott Carson as Rotherham led but saw his shot smothered. Derby had chances late on - a Nick Blackman shot and an Ince free-kick - but home keeper Richard O’Donnell made sure his side earned the result they deserved.

It was fitting that the breakthrough should have been made by Frecklington, a club legend there at the beginning the adventure back in 2014 and still making an impact at its conclusion, despite a terrible run of injuries this term.

“I’m buzzing for him that he scored,” Warne added. “He’s had a horrendous season, bless him.”

The midfield man was in the right place at the right time at the back post in the 66th minute to clinically steer home Joe Mattock’s excellent left-wing cross.

Vintage Frecks.

ALL OVER

The unwanted records have piled up thick and fast this season.

Twenty-three points is Rotherham’s lowest ever tally in the Championship, six less than the total they achieved the last time they dropped out of the second tier, in 2004/05.

Thirty-three defeats is five more than they’ve ever experienced in any division before, the previous worst being 28 in 1924/25 before they were even known as United.

However, the last-day draw saw them avoid equalling the Football League record of 34 losses in a single season, set by Doncaster Rovers in 1997/98.

And they kept their number of league goals conceded below three figures, to 98.

The players signed off with a lap of appreciation after the final whistle. That might have seemed a bad idea following, statistically, the worst season in the club’s history, but it was kept appropriately low-key and enough supporters hung around to make it worthwhile.

So that’s it then.

It was good, very good in parts, for two survival seasons. It was tough, heartbreakingly tough, throughout the third.

Warne was one of the last off the pitch. He’s glad this season is done. Now there is League One to prepare for. On his terms.

New battlefields, less glamorous than the iPro but offering a better chance of success. A new squad. As he said, new hope.

He approached the tunnel, shared a moment with fans, pulled a face to somebody he knew.

Then he, and Championship football, were gone.

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