After four months, 22 matches and 18 defeats, Paul Warne turned to drink.
Relegation from the Championship had just been confirmed and the first thing Rotherham United’s caretaker manager did was pick up his bottle of water and take a gulp.
He swilled the contents round his mouth and sprayed the New York Stadium turf in one sharp blast.
Warne spat out more than liquid. There was anger, frustration, disappointment, embarrassment, a sense of failure ... all the feelings that had built up during a desperate firefighting mission since taking the helm.
He had inherited a club left in dire straits by the player recruitment of Alan Stubbs and quickfire flit of Kenny Jackett, but responsibility for the drop, he said, was his.
“I took the reins a few months ago and I haven’t been good enough to get the results to keep us up, and that is on my head,” said the man who stepped up from fitness coach at the end of November.
“I don’t think I would do anything different, but I haven’t got any experience to pull from. If you do a job you’ve not done before and you give it your best, you’re not going to have any regrets. In my eyes, I have done the best that I can. Other people may not agree.”
Three minutes into time added on, the referee had produced a sharp blast of his own. And his whistle signalled the end of the Millers’ three-year stay in the second tier.
The drop had been on the cards for a long, long time. Ever since the December 28 2-1 defeat at home to Burton Albion. No-one saw a way back after that. Not with that squad.
When it finally happened, there were no tears inside the ground, no histrionics, just a sense of resigned acceptance. People had been prepared.
But, as with all sad news, even when you know it’s coming, it still hurt.
Rotherham were competitive in the first half and could have been leading at the break before they succumbed to the visitors’ superior quality after the interval.
And so the relegation match played out like any number of others at New York leading up to the fateful day.
Danny Ward should have put Warne’s side in front inside two minutes but headed wide after Semi Ajayi had supplied Joe Newell who produced a perfect left-flank cross. Lee Frecklington’s curling 17th-minute 25-yarder brought the best out of Cottagers goalkeeper David Button.
Fulham, needing points to leapfrog Sheffield Wednesday into the play-off places, saw Chris Martin somehow fail to connect with Tom Cairney’s cross in front of an open goal in the 53rd minute.
Within seconds, Jon Taylor was the culprit at the other end, poking tamely at Button after Newell’s pull-back.
Eleven minutes later, in a goalmouth scramble, Darnell Fisher blocked, Lewis Price saved and Aluko scored, forcing the ball home from close range.
Ward had two shots blocked in the 81st minute and Rotherham’s last act before the curtain fell on their Championship status was Aimen Belaid firing an inviting opportunity over the bar in time added on.
For a striker who didn’t have a single effort on goal, loan striker Carlton Morrris managed to make his home debut a promising one.
The 21-year-old from Norwich City showed pace, good control and the ability to link play before departing, shattered, in the 62nd minute of his first senior start since a spell at Hamilton last season.
“I was happy with him,” said Warne. “He was blowing out of his butt after 10 minutes, but he hasn’t had much match practice. He has had only training.
“If he was my project in the summer, I could make him a wealthy man. He can hold the ball up well and you can see he understands the game. He is keen as mustard, and I really like him as a kid.
“I have said all along that I want good human beings at the club. I am trying to get a different ethic at the club, one that I think has been lacking this year.
“If I could get Carlton on a season-long loan, then I would. He’s the sort of player I want. The more games he has, the more there is to come.”
WILL IT BE WARNE?
After 30 defeats in 39 league games - and eight in the last eight matches - the battle has been lost. Yet the most pivotal week of the Millers’ campaign is the one about to begin.
The club plan to make an announcement on Wednesday when Warne could be named as the next permanent manager or an outside appointment unveiled.
“If I was given the honour of doing it, I don’t think I could turn it down,” said the former Millers player who has presided over three victories during his interim tenure. “There is part of me that thinks it’s a little bit in the stars that I would be a manager at this great club. I do think that.
“I know people will be reading this and thinking: ‘Oh my god, not Warney.’ I am not trying to sell myself, but I give everything I can. Do I want to be a manager? On days like this, no, I do not. But if I ever won, then I would.”
The 43-year-old admits he has to develop a thicker skin, that the pressure of the position has sometimes outweighed the pride in holding it.
“I had one fan stop me the other day,” he said. “He said he really wants me to do it, but there was a part of him that didn’t because in the photos now I always look really sad.”
He had to pause. Hurting. Perhaps more than any of us.