The 13-month rise and fall of Rotherham United boss Matt Taylor

​​THE end came as dark clouds gathered literally and figuratively overhead following an Armistice Day fixture at Watford.

The beginning of that end had come 13 days earlier when the darkness stemmed from the paucity of Rotherham United's fighting spirit in the game that matters more than any other, the away derby at Sheffield Wednesday.

It was a 2-0 slaughter in favour of the Owls endured by a 3,000-plus away following.

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At the final whistle, boss Matt Taylor turned his back on Millers supporters and headed down the tunnel. By then, many of them had turned their backs on him.

Their team was in the Championship drop zone, performances on the road were defensively weak and offensively toothless. The mood was for change.

Fast-forward to Vicarage Road last Saturday and the feeling had festered despite decent home displays in between. "We want Taylor out, say we want Taylor out," some chanted as Rotherham capitulated again.

Within 48 hours, they'd got their wish.

“We had to act now to give ourselves the best possible chance of retaining our Championship status,” said owner Tony Stewart as Rotherham bade farewell to an able manager and driven character.

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Thirteen months ago, Taylor had just become a dad for the first time but was prepared to leave behind a secure job with League One Exeter City and uproot his family for the chance to test himself at second-tier level.

The 41-year-old followed in the footsteps of Paul Warne and built on the good work already done while at the same time rubbing out some of the practices and ideals of his predecessor as quickly as he could. Too quickly, maybe, as some of the old guard were alienated.

Of the many good things he did, his treatment of captain Richard Wood, a legend who had earned the right of respect, wasn't one of them.

It was his way now and with a combination of existing players and his own signings he overcame a Christmas blip to become the hero who kept the club in the Championship for the first time since 2016.

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His relationship with Stewart wasn't as close as Warne's had been but it was effective and the chairman dug deeper than he ever had to produce the funds for recruitment

This term, he took a calculated risk on signing older campaigners with chequered fitness records, saying that it was the only way Rotherham could bring in players of the necessary second-tier quality on the club's budget.

The away woe persisted, the rough deal from referees didn't help and it wasn't just the old guard who found themselves in a treatment room packed beyond bursting, too many of the younger first-team regulars did too.

More than anything, the injuries killed him. They were a big part of the reason why the Millers could barely buy a point on their travels. Sometimes, despite all the research, all the data, all the planning, all the hours, you just need a bit of luck and Taylor had none. The gamble had failed.

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He wasn't an easy person to get to know, approachable but at the same time reserved, capable of opening a door on his personal life yet essentially private. His job consumed him.

We worked fairly closely together and spoke most weeks on the phone, always about football and the Millers for Advertiser stories. Small talk wasn't his style and I was pleased when I made him laugh because he was a serious man to whom laughter didn't come readily.

‘Moments’, ‘in terms of’, ‘aspects’, the double use of the word, ‘so’, to emphasise the point he was making ... his use of speech was notably distinctive.

He had a desire to be decent and honest and a belief in his own ability that went beyond confidence but stopped short of arrogance. Not once did he ever dodge a question. I liked interviewing him, I liked him.

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A pay-off will mean he doesn't have to rush back into work unless he wants to (he will want to) but there's a human element to any sacking that often gets overlooked.

He, missus Sarah and young son Darragh have just moved to a new home in Dore and baby number two is expected around Christmas.

Rotherham played some of their best football of the last 20 years on Taylor's watch. This season's home display in the win over Norwich City was a joy and visitors Coventry City had no answer when the Millers clicked gloriously into gear.

It's telling that both matches were at AESSEAL New York Stadium.

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Twenty-one away games without a win had passed in the Championship by the time of the manager's demise.

The last victory on the road had been one of the great ones: the November 2022 1-0 triumph at South Yorkshire neighbours Sheffield United to end a 42-year drought in S2.

Contrast recent events at Hillsborough with Bramall Lane when Taylor fist-pumped the Millers fans who loved him for it.

It was the only time he ever really engaged with them. He should have done it more; it would have been good for both parties.

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“I'm just not an emotional person,” he said. “It's one of my failings.” So, so self-contained, as he might put it.

He'd come in last October paying lip service to the chairman's dream of the Premier League yet focused solely on Championship stability.

Wigan was his birthplace but there was no Lancashire-Yorkshire divide. He was northern and so were his new employers, he stressed. Boss and club were built on the values of always giving your all.

He had a Masters degree in coaching science, he was a vociferous worker, often watching match footage on his phone while giving Darragh middle-of-the-night feeds, he was completely clued up tactically.

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But, with all those injuries disrupting the most talented Millers squad since the early years of this century, he couldn't come up with a solution to stop what was happening on opposition soil.

It wasn't just the defeats that hurt this season, it was the manner of them. This wasn't Rotherham, and an 11-point haul compared to 22 at the same stage last term was a fatal comparison.

The dressing room had stayed with him. Ollie Rathbone, unprompted, felt compelled to speak to the media after the Watford clash to emphasise that point and more than one other player has since contacted me privately to say the same.

Yet a 5-0 defeat in Hertfordshire coming so soon after Hillsborough, coming after so much other away disappointment …The Remembrance Day game would be his final act as Rotherham manager.

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The Hornets had devoted the front cover of their matchday programme to honouring fallen heroes. Taylor, in a footballing context, only six months after his survival feat, was about to become another.

The one-word headline on the cover summed up his pending fate as the Millers board talked over the weekend and reluctantly took the action they felt they had to.