It has been a season that everyone associated with Rotherham United will want to forget ever existed.
From the moment Neil Warnock led the club on a merry dance at the end of the last campaign right through to just one win in their final 20 games, this has been 11 months that no one will ever want to think about again.
But unfortunately there is going to be a grizzly, permanent reminder of it in the history books.
In years to come, the words ‘since 2016-17’ will be frequently used when the Millers are having a particularly bad season. Just how bad those future campaigns are will depend how they compare against this nadir.
The records that have fallen are not ones to be celebrated. From the lowest second-tier points tally, to the most defeats in a season and a whole lot more, this campaign has been a statistician’s dream but a Millers fan’s nightmare. Only a late spike in results spared this team being the worst in Football League history.
Those stats don’t lie either, Rotherham have been every bit as bad as the numbers suggest. They have been a Championship side in name only. Indeed, just how uncompetitive they have been this season will have given chairman Tony Stewart – a man with a winning mentality as strong as his Yorkshire accent – sleepless nights.
Ultimately, though, the only fact that matters is that Rotherham will be playing in League One next season and their Championship journey ends at three eventful years.
The post-mortems and inquests have already been done. Steve Evans, Warnock, Alan Stubbs, Paul Warne and the board all have to take differing degrees of responsibility for simply the worst season in the club’s history. Whether Kenny Jackett, who was at the club such a short space of time, should be absolved of any blame is up for debate.
To simplify the problem, four years of on-the-hoof success, with little improvement to club’s infrastructure, left them behind the running in a cash-rich division and, unlike last season, there was no one capable of producing another against-the-odds short-term fix.
Top of the league
Few would have envisaged it being so bad when we were all sat there in our short sleeves on a balmy August day, watching Stubbs’ hastily assembled team put Wolves to the sword in a glorious opening 20 minutes of the campaign.
For the briefest of moments, the Millers were top of the league table. For the briefest of moments, it looked like a good season was on the cards.
But by the full-time whistle the feel-good factor was blown away by a defensive capitulation and they may only have been metaphorical, but the dark clouds were building over New York Stadium and they haven’t shifted since.
The rest of the first half of the season was one of the most unstable in the club’s history – on the playing side at least . Endless heavy defeats, injuries to key players, Stubbs sacked, Jackett walking after five games and the club being killed by a new loan system which stopped them strengthening the glaringly inadequate squad.
The second half, although more stable, proved no better. An initial upturn under Warne soon evaporated and when January did not provide suitable improvements to the squad, the writing was on the wall.
In Warne, who was given the role until the end of the season in January, the Millers had a rookie wanting to do well for himself, his family and the club, but someone who was battling with his own doubts of whether he really wanted to do the job.
The fitness-coach-turned-manager made mistakes and is certainly not above criticism for his part in a truly shocking set of results in 2017. But there are clear mitigating circumstances and the percentage of blame that falls on his shoulders for the club’s current predicament is minuscule in comparison to others.
Stewart certainly saw it that way and handed Warne the permanent position in April in an appointment that divided the fanbase. Some fans looked beyond the results and performances of his caretaker spell, others simply couldn’t.
Stewart was one of those who did not hold Warne accountable for the string of defeats. The boss knows he will not have that luxury next season.
If there are any positives to take from the abyss that has been 2016-17, then it’s that it served as sobering wake-up call to the Millers, who are now reorganising behind the scenes to ensure the long-term success of the club.
There’s been an overhaul to the recruitment process, much-needed no less, improvements will be made to the training ground and Warne is keen to implement a philosophy designed to build a strong team spirit.
Whether that all comes together in time for a promotion push next season remains to be seen, but the manner in which the Millers finished this horrid campaign is promising.
At the very least, they will go into games thinking they have a reasonable chance of winning them. After three years in the Championship, that alone is a sweet, comforting thought. Saturday nights might just become enjoyable again.
If a tilt at an instant return to the second tier is on the cards, the club needs the support to come together and get behind them, regardless of any lingering doubts over Warne’s suitability for the role.
A few early moves in the transfer market followed by some early wins should see to that and then maybe, just maybe, the healing process of a damaging season can begin.