Rotherham United: Millers Player of the Year driven by disappointment in quest for promotion
A year ago, Will Vaulks was so gutted by the relegation season he'd just endured that he allowed himself less than a week off.
Twelve months on, the Rotherham United midfielder will be a key man in tomorrow’s League One play-off semi-final first leg at Scunthorpe United as the Millers battle to regain their Championship status at the first attempt.
The 24-year-old can’t forget the events of 2016/17. He fought back so well this term in the transformation under Paul Warne that he won every Player of the Year award going, but that feeling of failure is still fuelling him.
“I spent a lot of it out of the country at the end of last season,” he said. “I went to visit my sister in Australia for two weeks. I tried to stay as fit as I could and it was weird as usually you finish the season and feel like you want to do nothing.
“You want to chill out, but I felt like I needed to start running straightaway. I think I had five days or a week off and was back running. I think because it was such a disappointing season that I was cheating myself by relaxing. So I did quite a lot of fitness work to feel better about myself.
“I was out running in Australia, which was a bit hot. I knew I was ticking over and doing what was right and I knew I had a big year coming up as the year before wasn’t good enough.”
Warne showed the exit door to players who wouldn’t buy into his team philosophy and brought in players who would. It wasn’t long before Vaulks realised his boss just might make a success of his first full season in charge
“I think fairly early on we started to think we were a fairly good team,” he said. “We noticed the players who the manager brought in all fitted in straightaway, which is quite rare, to be honest. Whatever he does when he rings and speaks to them means he tends to find the right kind of people.”
Rotherham started well, dipped in November, then really came good, finishing in fourth spot to book their play-off tie against the Iron.
“In our bad spell, we started to slip down and then won at Blackpool,” Vaulks recalled. “I think that was when I really noticed a contrast from the year before.
“We had players who were willing to come back from being down. Last year when we were 1-0 down, it was almost like we were going to lose by even more. This year has been a bit different.
“We spend a lot of time outside of training together, whereas last year there were a couple of cliques. It is hard in a losing team as you don’t want to neccessarily spend (extra) time with the lads. Hopefully, this will be a group we remember.
“We are not a typical bunch of footballers, I’d say. We are not ‘big time’ and do enjoy each other’s company. We all a similar age, which helps, apart from Woody (Richard Wood)!
“I can’t wait for 12.30pm on Saturday. It’s in games like this that you show what you’re about.”
Vaulks was a regular scorer in Scottish football with Falkirk before arriving at AESSEAL New York Stadium in the summer of 2016. He managed only one goal in his debut season but has hit the target seven times this time around.
The Millers beat Scunthorpe home and away during the regular campaign and Vaulks was on the score sheet with a long-range screamer in the 2-0 New York triumph in October, following up his strike, as usual, with a somersault.
“It was all right that one, top bin,” he grinned. “It was missed off the Goal of the Season list, but it doesn’t matter. A goal in the play-offs would be lovely.
Warne has joked that he’s tired of his player’s trademark acrobatics, suggesting it’s time for him to come up with an alternative.
“The only other thing would be an Alan Shearer celebration, which is all I did as a kid,” Vaulks responded. “The back-flip will be coming out if I score, so the gaffer will have to stay bored of it!”
Michael Smith, nominated for his solo effort against Bristol Rovers, lost out in Sky Bet League One April Goal of the Month competition to Wigan Athletic’s Gavin Massey.