Rotherham’s case of travel sickness this season has been chronic, but at least the curtain-closing draw at Preston hinted that the overall prognosis might just be a little bit better.
In putting in a spirited display to draw 1-1 at Deepdale, the Millers signed off on an utterly abject away campaign that will go into the history books, probably filed with the warning, ‘Do not read if feeling queasy’.
They lost 21 games out of 23, the joint highest in Football League history, failed to win a game for just the second time in their existence and in notching only two draws, posted their lowest ever points tally.
Their performances on the road have been a clear measure of their deficiencies in a ruthless and unforgiving Championship – a division that for the most part this group have just not been up to.
The Millers have had to take their medicine on an almost fortnightly basis. They have had the hammerings, the no-contests, the injustices and the hard-luck stories. However the 90 minutes panned out, the result was always the same.
The game at Deepdale, a traditional end-of-season fare, had all the hallmarks of so many of those previous losses. Paul Warne’s men were more than holding their own, led, missed chances to further their lead and then were pegged back.
We’d seen it so many times this season, that most people – pessimistic or not – would have expected Preston to somehow find a winner, probably in the final few minutes just to ruin the day completely.
But since Warne’s announcement as permanent manager, the Millers have improved both in performance and, crucially, in results and this time they held out to earn a thoroughly deserved draw.
It was just their second point on their travels and 14 games since their last one, going back to when Kenny Jackett’s side drew at Ipswich in October. Fitting of how the season went, even that day was shrouded in disappointment owing to the late equaliser they conceded.
There was only positivity on the menu in Lancashire, though, and as with last week’s win over Ipswich this result, although only a baby step, was important, not only for stopping the rot, but also with next season in mind.
The beginnings of a recovery are just starting to show and while a clean bill of health is some way off, these late results, meaningless for this campaign, might just have an impact next year.
Thoughts have been pondering to League One for most of the season and the main frame of the story at Deepdale was about two men who are fighting to be around next term.
Richie Smallwood, whose Rotherham career looked dead when Alan Stubbs inexplicably sent him on loan to Scunthorpe, has really come into his own over the last few weeks, producing the type of battling performance that makes his switch up the M180 even more head-scratching.
But the midfielder showed another part of his game against Preston as he gave the Millers the lead with a fine goal. His first touch from a cleared corner not only got the ball under control but also beat a man and his second was a sweet low volley which looped into the far corner.
It capped another impressive display and it looks like Smallwood has erased any doubts Warne might have had about him a few months ago. A new deal appears certain to be presented in 10 days or so.
Jonson Clarke-Harris will hope to follow a similar path and he did his chances of earning a stay no harm with one of his better displays in a Rotherham shirt, ironically at the stadium where he has previously showcased the worst of himself.
In last season’s 2-1 defeat at Deepdale, Clarke-Harris came on as a sub, refused to chase balls, offered nothing in the way of presence and ended up scoring a last-minute own goal.
Almost 15 months on, it could not have been more different for the striker who led the line commendably, showed strength and desire and looked a real threat. Lacking only match sharpness and a burst of pace, Clarke-Harris offered more than Carlton Morris has yet to do and the performance will have fans demanding a new deal for the striker.
Clarke-Harris was not the only man making his first start back from an injury as Stevie May also came back from a serious knee injury.
For me to start a game proper proud off myself and the lads what a shift from everyone now I can enjoy the boxing 💪🏽💪🏽
— jonson clarke-harris (@ClarkeHarris) April 29, 2017
The Millers will wish he hadn’t as he scored a superb equaliser, bending in a 20-yard effort into the top corner in the first example of why Steve Evans was so desperate to bring him to the club three years ago.
It was a goal worthy of three points, but the newly resolute and battle-hardened Rotherham side comfortably ensured that it would only be one.
It was just what the doctor ordered.
From the notebook
– Wow, Jon Taylor’s crossing. A classic performance by the Millers’ record signing, excellent until his last touch, with a set of crosses that will make any blooper DVD.
– You couldn’t help but feel sorry for Ben Pringle, condemned to a role of unused substitute. He hasn’t played this year and his move to Preston hasn’t worked out. Warne may well have been in his ear.
– Two games unbeaten! The first time it’s happened this season. It’s been a hideous year but at least it’s ending on an upward curve.
– Tom Adeyemi could have had a hat-trick, but didn’t bring his shooting boots. A miss just before half-time was particularly embarrassing. Let’s hope it was the day all the scouts came to watch.