Legend Richard Wood says goodbye in front of 4,333 Millers fans ... the story of Wigan Athletic 0 Rotherham United 0

THE last song playing on the last day of the season was that old classic, Stand By Me.
A legend says goodbye. Pictures by Jim BrailsfordA legend says goodbye. Pictures by Jim Brailsford
A legend says goodbye. Pictures by Jim Brailsford

It filled the air at the DW Stadium, much like the chants of the hordes of Rotherham United fans throwing a survival party had throughout the match.

The away end was packed with 4,333 of them. In the pouring rain, they started singing, they carried on singing, they never stopped singing. It never stopped raining either.

They didn't get to cheer a goal but it wasn't really important. The Millers had done the job at home to Middlesbrough the previous Monday. This match with Wigan Athletic was an occasion more than it was a contest.

"The sales were huge," said manager Matt Taylor. "It was just incredible to see that stand full - and I mean full - like that. The fans are starting to believe and the only way they will keep believing is if we get to that 50-point target next season and stay in the league again."

Yes, that's right. Rotherham have hit the half-century mark as they've stayed in the Championship, with points to spare, for the first time in four attempts. Something good is starting to stir under the boss of seven months.

The away end

Yet just as this season has seen a new beginning it was also witnessing an ending.

After the final whistle, the veteran warrior, Richard Wood, stood among the men in yellow away kits saluting the massed ranks of red and white.

He lingered, he savoured, at times he appeared sad. His body language suggested this this was more than a player simply thanking fans.

Within half an hour, it was confirmed that the captain, the legend, the player with nine years' service, would be leaving the club.

THE MATCH

This was a bank-holiday squad affair. Rotherham had taken their entire senior group across the M62 as they rounded off a memorable campaign.

Injuries had hit hard all season and there had been no let-up during the run-in. In the seats was a team even better than the one on the pitch as Ollie Rathbone, Chiedozie Ogbene, Ben Wiles and numerous others watched on in their club tracksuits.

"I could have named a full side of injured players today and that has happened to us countless times," Taylor said. "It has put us in a difficult position.

"This league is so demanding that it turns us into that sort of squad so we have to find a way to be more robust. When the injuries come, which they always do at this level, we have to be better equipped."

It was the match that didn't matter. Rotherham were safe, Wigan were already relegated and it showed. The Millers had three untried kids on their bench, with winger Joel Holvey coming on late for his debut. The Latics, having failed to pay some of their players for the fifth time this season, padded out their 18 with 11 academy graduates.

Taylor's team started well and Tariqe Fosu slalomed around opponents on his way into the penalty area to force a save from debutant goalkeeper Sam Tickle.

Shouts for a spot-kick when Jamie Lindsay was through and tumbled under a challenge from Christ Tiehi went unheeded and, as the visitors continued to hold the upper hand, Jordan Hugill, was inches away from connecting with Fosu's cross in front of a gaping goal.

At the back, the skipper was the Woody who joined the club in 2014: the usual defiance, the familiar commitment, the same organiser; just with a few more wrinkles.

"It would have been nice to take three points today," Taylor said. "I thought we were bright in the first half and created enough chances to be ahead in the game.

"The second half became disjointed for both teams in light of the substitutions. I am pleased to get to the 50-point mark. It is a fantastic achievement for this club.

Fancy-dress party

Wigan may have had a player called Christ in their side but the real saviour on show was Viktor Johansson whose saves after the break kept Rotherham in the game.

Domingos Quina's curling free-kick - stopped by Tickle - was the Millers' only real threat before the Latics suddenly burst into life.

The Millers' player of the season held on to Thelo Aasgaard's header, saved sharply at his near post to deny Omar Rekik, got down well to palm away Aasgaard's long-range strike and then dived full stretch to keep out Charlie Hughes' skidding 20-yarder.

Thoughts will quickly turn to the next campaign but, just for now, Taylor was staying in the present.

"It is the time to thank the fans, the players for their efforts this season and the staff," he said. "We have had ups, downs, good times and difficult times but we have been successful in terms of what we set out to do. That has given myself more clarity in terms of where I want to take this club."

THE FAREWELL

That well-known song was still going when another old classic, this one of the Rotherham variety, joined his teammates in communion with the travelling faithful.

The other players, in a mark of respect, insisted he go to the front on his own for a final goodbye.

It was emotional.

In time, he headed out of the limelight and back into the ranks, where he has always been happiest. A leader by deed and force of will.

The last line of the last song of the last day of season played out, capturing the ethos of the captain in nearly a decade as a Miller.

'Just as long as you stand, stand by me.'

Wigan (4-3-3): Sam Tickle; Charlie Hughes, Steven Caulker (Chris Sze 60), Omar Rekik (Youssef Chentouf 87), Tom Pearce; James McClean, Jack Whatmough, Christ Tiehi (Scott Smith 87); Callum Lang, Anthony Scully (Abdi Sharif 69), Thelo Aasgaard. Subs not used: Tom Watson, Harry McHugh, Baba Adeeko.

Rotherham (3-5-1-1): Viktor Johansson; Cameron Humphreys, Richard Wood, Leo Hjelde (Joel Holvey 81); Wes Harding, Jamie Lindsay, Hakeem Odoffin, Tariqe Fosu, Cohen Bramall; Domingos Quina (Georgie Kelly 75); Jordan Hugill (Peter Kioso 87). Subs not used: Robbie Hemfrey, Hamish Douglas, Curtis Durose, Tom Eaves.

Referee: Tim Robinson (West Sussex).

Attendance: 17,778 (4,333).