SOME enter the new year with grand plans, lofty goals and resolutions they’ll never keep.
For Rotherham United, the thinking has to be a little bit more measured and sensible than that.
Boring? Maybe so, particularly after the recent upturn, but it is important not to forget the club and the team are in a period of transition and could be for a while yet.
No matter how many common-sense words are printed in this newspaper week after week, there will be some who will still want the manager and his players to run before they can walk and for whom any finish below the top six will be a crushing disappointment.
DOWN AND OUT... Jamie Proctor
But as the Millers and their supporters prepare to ring in the New Year, it’s a good time to pause for thought.
Stability, forward-planning and a cohesive strategy weren’t things readily associated with Rotherham United a year or more ago, when everything was driven by survival in the Championship and doing whatever was necessary to achieve it.
At least as the inevitable loomed, the club had one of those “lightbulb moments”, a realisation that things had to change, and the first green shoots of that have started to show in the back half of 2017.
The journey has been painful and it’s put the powers-that-be at the AESSEAL New York Stadium up for fresh scrutiny and criticism, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Now here we are, 12 months on, with the club having completed a calendar year with the same manager! It’s the first time that has happened since 2014 under Steve Evans.
On top of that, there’s a more thorough, professional recruitment system in place dovetailed with a youth system producing players coached to play the “Rotherham United way” and not at the beck and call of whichever first team manager happens to be in place at the time.
All that, plus the improvements to the training ground, don’t earn extra points on a Saturday afternoon. They do mean that the players can go about their day to day business in a much more stable and pleasurable environment and that can help when it comes to matchdays.
It’s not all sunshine and roses and the whole set-up is still short of the sort of model that can give Rotherham United a lasting future in the Championship, which is what we all want.
JOE NEWELL... One of five survivors from the opening game of 2017
But, honestly, are the Millers fully prepared to step back into that unforgiving cauldron without getting badly burned again?
Next year could be too soon for the club and the team, although of course we’d all take the chance if offered.
In the harrowing first months after taking the manager’s job, Paul Warne talked about Rotherham United, exhausted from three seasons of struggle, as a forest that needed burning to the ground and starting again.
That re-growth is underway thanks to some decent summer recruitment and the new togetherness fostered by the manager and a coaching team with strong Rotherham histories and the club’s best interests at heart. They’re the type who want to buy into a long-term plan, alien as those are in the modern game.
Progress along that road can’t always be achieved in one or two transfer windows. Warne has only had two, and his first last January was hardly a benefit because the club was such a hard sell.
Rotherham kicked off the year with a 3-0 defeat at Leeds and a team including Kirk Broadfoot, Darnell Fisher, Aimen Belaid, Tom Adeyemi, Danny Ward and Izzy Brown. Peter Odemwingie and Dexter Blackstock (remember them?) were on the bench.
MEMORIES... Top scorer Kieffer Moore will head back to parent club Ipswich in January
Moulding a side in your image takes time and Warne, for all his relative inexperience, hasn’t been a bad judge so far. Four of the five survivors of the starting 11 that day – Joe Mattock, Anthony Forde, Lee Frecklington and Joe Newell – are all still regulars.
No-one would pretend that the current team has the spine, the leaders or the unflinching self-belief of the one that won successive promotions under Evans. The ups and downs in form so far have shown that.
What Warne has done is put out an attack-minded side blessed with some good footballers and a real goal threat. Direct at times? Yes. Brittle at the back? Yes. Adaptable? Certainly. That’s been shown by the way they’ve got it down and played more football since target man and talisman Kieffer Moore has been missing.
His impending departure is a headache, as is the need for a replacement for the crocked Jamie Proctor. Rotherham haven’t generally been defensively sound enough to ignore the need for new faces in the back line in January.
While it’s an important month in the context of the season, it’s not the be-all and end-all.
The end-game here isn’t just the league position in May. It’s about being able to see if tangible progress is being made and, all being well, next summer Warne and his helpers can drive through another wave of changes that can raise the bar higher.
As the Millers close the book on a year that was a mix of torture and then gradual recovery, it’s as true as ever that sometimes you have to take a step back to take a step forward.