WHERE visits to the AESSEAL New York Stadium last season represented an exercise in endurance for Rotherham United supporters, hope and expectation now abounds.
After a punishing, quite dreadful 2016-17 which saw the Millers claim just five Championship wins in 23 matches on home soil, the home faithful would have been forgiven for thinking long and hard last summer about renewing their vows ahead of the League One campaign.
Those who stuck with it have been royally rewarded. Twelve league wins have arrived at home in 20 matches in 2017-18, with the Millers having been beaten just once in their own backyard since late November.
Only Blackburn Rovers, with 40 league goals, have managed to score more third-tier goals at home than Rotherham, who have mustered 39 ahead of Saturday’s encounter with Fleetwood.
The numbers regarding attendances are decidedly healthy, too. They no longer enjoy bumper followings from big rival second-tier clubs from Yorkshire, the North-West and the Midlands packing out the visiting section and many would have expected last season’s average crowd of 9,348 to take a major hit. Not so, with the current average figure of 8,508 being pretty impressive under the circumstances, with the home support holding up.
It is enough to warm the heart of any chairman as Millers owner Tony Stewart admits.
“We have lost not much over 500 from our home crowds from last season and that is going from the Championship to League One and the gap is 500 in terms of season tickets,” he said.
“That is not a disaster and we are really looking forward to next season. It will help that the groundforce of people will be talking to their friends and neighbours and saying ‘come and watch Rotherham, they are vibrant, young, exciting and athletic’.
“It is called entertainment and I think we have got the entertainment bit right at the moment.”
The Millers have short-changed few in a season which can be considered a success regardless of what happens between now and the end of the campaign. It is a club now in credit.
Naturally, those connected with the Millers – relatively comfortable in the play-off positions, but with work still to do to finish off the job – would ideally like a quickfire return to the Championship.
But the overall development of a club making important strides in terms of infrastructure, off-the-field progress and long-term planning is just as important, if not more so.
It all points towards a go-ahead club being fit for purpose whenpromotion does arrive.
“We spent £300,000 on a changing area at the training ground, which I think has made a difference,” added Stewart.
“We now have a big area where there is a cafe facility and changing rooms, a physio room and gym and that has made a difference.
“I think it is everything that goes with it. Season on season, you are trying to improve in all areas. It is not just about the players, but coaches. We have invested in recruitment and it is not just the recruitment guy (Jamie Johnson), but his staff as well.
“They analyse all the stats which are given us, as we move to the end of the season. Already, we have got 40 (new player) options and I do like options and to be spoilt for choice. We are well prepared, not just for now, but moving forward.
“After the shock of our recent loss at MK Dons, it was the first time that some people were not saying: ‘We need a goalkeeper, we need a centre-forward, left-back.’ That was not the conversation. It was just a lull in performance and we turned it around at Northampton and we’re back up there again.
“We know these lads can perform and have got to maintain the level of performance for the rest of the season. We are capable of doing it and let’s hope we can achieve the highest point.
“We have options with many players and it is going to be fun in selecting people moving forward on the wishes of what the manager wants. We will look forward to that as we move to the end of the season – not knowing where we will be playing next season yet.”
As for promotion talk, Stewart added: “It is something to strive for and we are striving for that. But we have still got to get to the line and through the play-offs.
“It is down to us and if we keep our form up, there is no reason why we shouldn’t.”