Leon Wobschall: Revitalised Rotherham United will be all out to dispel memories of nightmare

Leeds Utd v Rotherham,May 8, 2005; 'Danny Pugh tangles with Rotherham's Sam Duncum.
Leeds Utd v Rotherham,May 8, 2005; 'Danny Pugh tangles with Rotherham's Sam Duncum.
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ROTHERHAM United set sail on their first Championship voyage for nine seasons on Saturday and one thing is for sure, the journey cannot be as treacherous as their last one in 2004-05.

Millers supporters endured the most torrid of rides in a campaign that saw the departure of a legend, three different managers, cash worries and off-the-field instability galore culminating in a change of ownership – not to mention a horror show on the pitch.

If the 2013-14 campaign ranks as among the sweetest for the Millers, alongside the likes of 2000-01 when Alan Lee’s late goal against Brentford clinched promotion to the second tier and 1980-81, when Ian Porterfield led them to the old Division Three title, then 2004-05 was the polar opposite.

The tone was set in a truly awful 21-match winless streak at the start of the campaign, with Rotherham finally breaking their duck – although no-one present will still be quite sure how – in a 1-0 televised victory over Leeds United at their old Millmoor home on November 29, 2004.

It was a rare chink of light in a desperate campaign when the Millers made the headlines for all the wrong reasons, winning just five matches out of 46 and finishing rock-bottom by a country mile. Twenty-one points away from safety, to be exact.

In the midst of it all until he was sacked in February was Ronnie Moore.

If the Scouser experienced plenty of golden highs as a Millers player and manager, 2004-05 was the annus horribilis.

The tone was set in pre-season, when a frustrating summer saw takeover talks between local businessman and lifelong fan Neil Freeman and Millers chairman Ken Booth – keen to sell up – stall, with the upshot being that Moore was hamstrung in his quest for new ‘A list’ signings.

The future of Moore was highly uncertain in early summer when he was strongly tipped to land the vacant Burnley job, only for Steve Cotterill to pip him for the Clarets post.

The signs were not good as the Millers readied themselves for a fourth season in the second tier, even more so with main marksman Martin Butler, top-scorer the previous season with 15 goals, on the sidelines after contracting Hepatatis A – he did not return to action until mid-November.

Moore’s summer recruitment did see Robbie Stockdale, Paolo Vernazza and Phil Gilchrist join permanently and Paul Shaw sign on loan. But it was far from the riches that Moore had envisaged with a Freeman-led takeover – which never transpired.

Yet things on the pitch began encouragingly enough on a red-hot day in the capital against QPR on August 7, 2004, when Shaw netted the equaliser on his debut in a 1-1 draw. It proved a false dawn.

Home draws with Burnley and Stoke City followed, but the opening month worryingly ended with a 2-0 defeat at managerless Preston, a display that Moore labelled as gutless and inept.

An early-season drama descended into a full-blown crisis in the autumn with Moore, seriously short of options and with patience fraying, increasingly left to bemoan matters.

September saw a haul of just two points out of a possible 21 with a dreadful month culminating in the Millers losing the equivalent of a six-pointer when they lost 3-2 at home to fellow strugglers Crewe Alexandra.

Eleven games in, no Championship wins and with just five points to their name, it was crystal-clear that Rotherham’s campaign was all about survival – something that if it could be acheived would comfortably represent Moore’s biggest achievement.

Moore’s side continued to haemorrhage losses and it even prompted some fans to start to think the unthinkable, that his time was up.

His future at Millmoor never looked so perilous as in October, when prospective new owners Mike Worthington and Darren Millington – owners of club sponsors Earth Mortgages – lined up a takeover deal which would have reportedly seen Bryan Robson and Paul Gascoigne installed as the new managerial team.

But when Earth Mortgages dramatically pulled out of a takeover deal, one of many bizarre episodes in an increasingly fraught campaign, the November sale of Chris Sedgwick to Preston, to help ease £20,000 weekly club losses, was another kick in the teeth.

If the Millers did have a brief moment to savour, it finally arrived against Leeds, with all the ill luck the club had experienced turning on one crazy night when a late goal from Martin McIntosh secured the sweetest of wins.

Leeds hit the bar three times in the opening eight minutes with the hosts somehow holding out and going onto claim an unlikely victory. Few neutrals would have begrudged them that amid ecstatic scenes.

Speaking afterwards, Moore said: “It’s party time. But I’m not daft and I know that, on another night, we would have lost by four or five goals.

“We were lucky and the first 10 minutes were embarrassing for me, but we have to kick on now.

“Nobody is mentioning relegation; we can still get away from the bottom.”

It was not the precursor to an upturn despite a mini renaissance over Christmas and New Year, led by new signing Jamal-Campbell Ryce, with the Millers winning at Leicester on Boxing Day and starting 2005 with another triumph at Millwall.

That spell coincided with more takeover talk. But this time, it actually came to fruition with a supporters group called Millers 05, led by solicitor Peter Ruchniewicz, moving in.

Booth wrote off the club’s £3m debts – but crucially kept ownership of the land behind the main stand – and lent the new regime £600,000 to start them off.

While many fans professed delight at the exit of Booth, it was hardly the signal for a bright new dawn, with Millers 05 struggling to grapple with financial issues and results offering no respite.

Moore was sacked by the club at the start of February, with United winning just three league matches out of 30 under his watch.

Caretaker-chief Alan Knill, assisted by Mark Robins, took on dug-out duties in the 0-0 home draw with Nottingham Forest on February 5, 2005.

With the Millers 11 points adrift of safety following that stalemate, anything resembling a Great Escape, with little or no funds to purchase players, was seriously unlikely.

The season petered out, with Mick Harford eventually named as new full-time manager in early April, with a remit to somehow rebuild the club.

All told, life after Moore saw two wins – an unlikely last-gasp home success over high-flying Reading thanks to a goal from current Millers fitness coach Paul Warne alongside an Easter Monday triumph at Stoke – arrive in 16 matches with relegation confirmed in a plucky 4-3 defeat at Ipswich on April 6.

With little other than pride to play for, the Millers handed opportunities to the likes of Marc Newsham and Sam Duncum, with the latter making his debut in the 0-0 final-day draw at Leeds United, which ended a run of five successive defeats.

It was that sort of season, with the future – unlike now – far from bright.

Additional reporting 
by Zac Sorkin.