With last season firmly banished from the memory, it is nearly time to start all over again as Rotherham try and mount a promotion challenge in League One.
The negativity that consumed the club last term seems to have disappeared and been replaced with an unusual dose of positivity.
So, with just 16 days to go until the big kick-off, here are 16 reasons to be excited for the new campaign.
Building on the positivity
Last term did at least end with an upturn in form and results and the Millers have followed that up with an impressive-looking close season so far. They have done some shrewd business in the transfer market, both with incomings and outgoings, and the recent tour to Austria received glowing reviews from all involved. Compare the goings on to 12 months ago and there is a real buzz around the club as the new season approaches. Hopefully this can be harnessed when the action gets under way on August 6.
— Rotherham United (@OfficialRUFC) July 16, 2017
We’ve got a chance, lads
Over the last three years there must only have been a handful of fixtures where Rotherham went into games where, if all things were equal, they had a credible chance of winning. Now, dropping down a level that is all change and there will be something refreshing about the prospect of preparing for a fixture that the Millers might actually be favourites for.
Last time we were in this division
It will have no bearing on this season, other than providing a positive reference point, but last time the Millers graced League One they produced one of their best campaigns in their history. Playing a swashbuckling brand of football, they ended up winning promotion in the best way possible – a penalty shootout at Wembley. Even if we get half as much entertainment as that, we’re in for a treat.
Crunch time for Paul Warne
After a torrid introduction to life as a manager last term, the Millers boss appears to have made a good fist tipping the scales back towards where they need to be so far. While Tony Stewart might have been willing to overlook results last season, that is absolutely not going to be the case this time around and Warne, having built his own squad, will live or die by how the team does between 3-5pm on a Saturday afternoon. The next few months will decide whether the former fitness coach can cut it as a manager and we’re all hoping that he can.
Early test of credentials
Warne has said he is aiming for a top-1o finish, the chairman might be hoping for a bit more than that, but the Millers will get an early test of whether they might have what it takes to be mounting a promotion challenge. A tough opening trip to last season’s play-off semi-finalists Fleetwood is followed by clashes with Southend, Peterborough, Charlton and Portsmouth, all sides which harbour realistic hopes of being up there come May.
Renewing a rivalry
It has been over a decade since the Millers have met Doncaster in a competitive fixture as the two sides have dodged each other with relegations and promotions. It is a South Yorkshire rivalry that is felt more fiercely up the M18 but the Millers will still want bragging rights. Rotherham will want to put right their only prior visit to the Keepmoat in November, while it will be a first New York trip for Rovers, which their fans will surely enjoy, in February.
While three years on it is unrealistic to expect Lee Frecklington to be the same as he was last time he played in this division, it’s entirely reasonable to hope that the skipper will be around more. Injuries have blighted his last two seasons and the Millers missed him when he was out. League One should suit his game more and might see him avoid picking up the niggling injuries. If he manages to repeat the 49 appearances he made in 2013-14, it will have been a good season.
Rotherham have not had the chance to beat Bradford for three years, but that is a rivalry that will resume following the Bantams’ play-off loss last season. The West Yorkshire side were bunny rabbits during the Steve Evans era when the Millers won six out of seven games against them, while also effectively winning promotion at Valley Parade. Bradford have never scored at New York Stadium so they will hope to put that right in January, with the reverse fixture set for September.
Curing the travel sickness
So bad were Rotherham last season that they went through the entire campaign without being able to win away. Their measly two-point haul on the road means that they have not registered an away victory since they hammered MK Dons 4-0 in April 2016. That will surely be remedied in 2017-18, but if they don’t do it in the first four games then they will set a new club record of 28 away games without a win.
He’s on the Ball
One of the highlights of the off season has been the exciting capture of David Ball from Fleetwood. The former Manchester City trainee played a big role in helping the Cod Army to the play-offs last season and he will offer the Millers something different. Not your traditional out-and-out striker, Ball will likely play in the No 10 role and Warne will hope his guile and creativity can provide an extra dimension to the attack. He’ll also probably chip in with a fair few goals too.
As mentioned above, Ball has the potential to be one of the key players, but he also looks like forging an impressive partnership in attack with Jamie Proctor. Both men have found the goal trail early on in pre-season, bagging nine goals between them, and if they can continue to build an understanding in the final few friendlies then Warne will be rubbing his hands together in glee.
Late transfer deals?
Warne looks like having got most of his business done early, but admits that he won’t know for sure if his squad is complete until the action gets under way. That hints at the possibility of some late action in the transfer window. Warne still has a list of players he would like and, having not spent much money so far, has some cash burning a hole in his pocket. Could we see the club’s transfer record broken on a striker?
Make or break for Jonson Clarke-Harris
Will this finally be the breakthrough year for Jonson Clarke-Harris? The striker has had a tough three years since joining the Millers and has only shown fleeting glimpses of the talent that saw him become the club’s record buy in 2014. After injury ruined last season, Warne has laid down the law to Clarke-Harris and so far he seems to be responding. The first few months of the season will decide whether Clarke-Harris has a future at the club or whether he doesn’t.
Time to prove yourselves
A lot of players failed to deliver last season and they will be chomping at the bit to prove themselves. The likes of Will Vaulks, Darnell Fisher, Dominic Ball and Jon Taylor failed to show that they were cut out for the Championship while Joe Newell and Anthony Forde were hit and miss. Ben Purrington did not really get much of a chance while goalkeeper Richard O’Donnell only made the No 1 shirt his own at the back end of the campaign. In short, a lot of players will be keen to show their worth.
A lot of people are excited by Josh Emmanuel, not least Warne and his staff. The Millers look to have pulled off a smart trick in convincing Ipswich to allow their highly-rated right-back to join them on loan and the prospect of him bombing up and down the right touchline is a mouth-watering one. If he is as good as his reputation appears to be then the Millers could have unearthed a gem.
Five-year anniversary of the AESSEAL New York Stadium
It’s impossible to believe that the Millers are coming up to the fifth anniversary of their first season at their new home. A lot has happened since that landmark beating of Burton in 2012, some of it bad, but most of it good and the New York Stadium has been a brilliant addition to the club’s landscape. And what better way to celebrate five years there than with a promotion challenge?