Rotherham have racked up plenty of unwanted records this season but they were spared one of the most embarrassing with a long-awaited win that might have more bearing on next term than this one.
The 1-0 victory over Ipswich, courtesy of Tom Adeyemi’s 79th-minute strike, moved the Millers to 21 points, passing the Football League record low of 20 for a 46-game season, set by Doncaster Rovers in 1997-98.
It also gave Paul Warne his first success as permanent manager and ended a drought that lasted 17 games and 99 days. It was long overdue and a left a sweet taste against a backdrop of many bitter afternoons this season.
That last win against Norwich way back in January was also settled by an Adeyemi goal and his decisive act against the other club in East Anglia was timely, given his future has been a hot topic of conversation this week.
Warne has said he will try and pull out all of the stops to sign the Cardiff loanee on a permanent deal, but the midfielder’s performances might make that difficult. With another match-winning goal to his name, Championship clubs are bound to sit up and take notice.
Even if Adeyemi’s winner against an Ipswich side consisting of mainly squad players will be a parting gift, it may well end up being a valuable one – not in the context of this season, but for next.
The size of Warne’s rebuilding job in the summer is going to be big enough without a long winless run and shameful club records hanging over him. The recent D and now a W in a never-ending list of Ls can only have a positive effect going into next year on both the manager and the players that will still be here, something Warne concedes.
“It’s a monkey off the back, I am in charge of this team, I am the one who took us down, so I want to finish the season on a high,” the boss said.
“To get to 21 points is a relief, I am happy about the win as I am the clean sheet. For us to get over the line, I am happy.”
In an afternoon of shirking off unwanted records, Rotherham finally joined the rest of the 92 league clubs in being awarded a penalty, when Jon Taylor was bundled over in the seventh minute.
Having waited until the 44th game of the season to win a spot-kick, it was entirely predictable – and fitting of this campaign – that Danny Ward would miss from the spot. It couldn’t have been more 2016-17 than when the striker saw his low spot-kick impressively turned away by Dean Gerken.
Ward suffered a season-ending hamstring injury immediately before half-time and the sight of him hobbling down the tunnel may well be the final one of him in a red and white shirt, if interest in him in the summer is as strong as expected.
The Millers followed up their early penalty miss with some good play and spurned further chances to go ahead, a familiar tale that has usually ended up in defeat.
For once, it did not go to type, though, as a below-par Ipswich failed to score in a dominant 20 minutes after the restart and it was the Millers who finished strongly.
Jonson Clarke-Harris’ hopes of a new deal – which remain in doubt – would have been enhanced had his deflected header trickled in instead of wide of the post before Adeyemi slammed home the winner from the second phase of the resulting corner.
The remaining 11 minutes – by this season’s standards at least – were played out relatively trouble-free and the Millers held on for a win that was so important, not least for the long-suffering fans whose Saturday night was at last going to be enjoyable.
From the notebook
– Richie Smallwood, enjoying his best run of form since he came back from Scunthorpe, was handed the armband after Ward’s injury instead of Richard Wood, who has previously skippered the side this season. That might tell us something about the differing fate of both out-of-contract players in the summer.
– So it’s turning out that the two-month wait for Carlton Morris to come from Norwich might not have been worth it. It was another ineffective performance from the young striker, who never seems to be in a position to hurt the opposition.
– Darnell Fisher has had his critics this season, us included, but he produced two important defensive moments in the second half and performed well.
– “I wonder if he got that much airtime after a defeat”, joked Ipswich boss Mick McCarthy, who was left waiting outside the press room while Warne spoke at length about his side’s win.
– Central midfield, right-back, right midfield and now centre-back. Will Vaulks is proving Mr Versatility this season.
– We hereby prescribe Alex Bray with a strict diet of Weetabix.
– ‘Clean sheet – noun. Prevent the opposing side from scoring.’ Just in case you forgot.
– Mick McCarthy is definitely on Paul Warne’s Christmas card list. Nine changes, you say? Thank you very much.