Rotherham United are ready to face life in League One without Richie Smallwood as time runs out on the midfielder who has yet to decide his Millers future.
The club have offered Smallwood a new deal following their Championship relegation but are warning they could close the door on the 26-year-old unless he quickly makes up his mind.
“I don’t know if it will be us or him who walks away,” said assistant manager Richie Barker. “We have had to say, we need an answer. It is getting close to the point where a decision will have to be made.”
Smallwood, a key man for Rotherham since signing from Middlesbrough in 2014, is one of three out-of-contract players the Millers want to keep for their 2017/18 campaign
Left-back Joe Mattock, 27, has already signed a fresh two-year deal and the club are optimistic centre-half Richard Wood, 31, will also extend his stay at New York Stadium.
“At this precise minute, he (Smallwood) is the least likely to sign,” Barker revealed. “He was made a very good offer. The club have done their best, but it doesn’t seem to be moving forward at the minute. The club have tried hard.
“We are hopeful that Richard Wood is going to come to an agreement in the next few days, but we are only hopeful. We are quite a way down the way with that.”
Rotherham started their summer recruitment on Thursday by signing defender Michael Ihiekwe who was at the end of his contract with non-league Tranmere Rovers.
The central defender, 24, impressed manager Paul Warne when he came to South Yorkshire to check out his prospective new surroundings.
“I met him when he came to the stadium,” said Warne, now away in Northern Ireland completing his coaching qualifications. “I really liked him because he was refreshing in the fact that he actually asked me some questions instead of me doing all the talking.
“He wanted to know where I saw him in my plans and I told him the truth, that if he comes back in pre-season and is the best centre-half then he’ll play. It’s as simple as that. I haven’t got any favourites and I’d put anyone in who is performing.
“I got some good reports from different people about him. He still has some improvements to make. It’s our job to help him do that.”
Warne watched the former Wolves youngster play at Wembley in the National League Play-off Final as Tranmere were denied a return to the Football League by a 3-1 defeat against Forest Green.
“He was at Wolves as a kid and the recruitment team brought him to my attention,” the Millers boss added. “I went and watched him in the play-off final and, although he lost, he looked competitive and athletic.”
The Millers would love midfield man Tom Adeyemi, who was on loan at New York this season, to agree a permanent package with them but accept they are almost certain to lose him to a Championship side.
Adeyemi is waiting to see what interest materialises, and Barker said: “He will be the last player we will get an answer on. We have made a very good offer but we would be more hopeful than expectant that something comes out of that.”