Rotherham United v Plymouth Argyle: Richard Wood on a mission for promotion hat-trick

Out of the darkness comes light.

Out of relegation, eventually, comes fresh hope.

Three months have passed since Rotherham United felt the crushing deflation of relegation.

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They were two minutes from surviving for another season in the Championship when Marlon Pack delivered a knife to the heart in the shape of a Cardiff City equaliser that sent them down.

Determined: Rotherham United's Richard Wood is out to prove the Millers can bounce back agsain. Picture: PA

After the mental and physical exertion of playing 12 games in 37 days, including four in eight days at one stage, it was a cruel way for the season to end.

For Millers fans in exile, watching from their laptops and their sitting rooms, it was galling to take.

For the players, it was devastating.

“It took me a few weeks because it didn’t hit home straight away,” club captain Richard Wood tells The Yorkshire Post.

The agony or relegation: Paul Warne, manager of Rotherham United embraces Richard Woodafter the Championship match at Cardiff City. Picture: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

“Straight after the game we were disappointed, but it took a few weeks to register what had happened. We’d put in such a massive effort, so it was very disappointing. The whole season in general, the Covid situation, the amount of games we had to go through in a short space of time. At the end of the day, we weren’t good enough.

“But you soon get over it. I went on holiday, refreshed my mind again, and we’ve come back.”

Indeed they have, and optimism abounds.

Relegation brought a reduction in budget and status, but it also brings new hope and good reason for optimism.

For the flip side of Rotherham’s inability in two of the last four seasons to cling to their Championship status is their ability to get out of League One at the first time of asking.

It is an admirable record under manager Paul Warne, promoted from the third tier via the play-offs in 2017-18 and up automatically in 2019-20 by virtue of the percentage points formula after the campaign was curtailed by Covid.

No-one does bouncing back quite like Rotherham United, and for long-serving Wood, those promotions have created some of the best memories of his career.

“Yeah we’re in League One but as I look back on my career, the previous two times I’ve been in League One has ended in promotion; play-offs and automatic,” says the 36-year-old Wakefield-born defender.

“So I’m looking forward to this season to try and make it three times in a row.

“Let’s go for it.

“And that’s what I look at now. I’ve looked back at the play-off final at Wembley, scoring a goal and captaining the side, why can’t I do it again?

“Yeah I’m getting a bit older but I just want to make memories again, memories for myself and my family, for my kids to watch and enjoy.”

If Rotherham are to win promotion again, this will arguably be the toughest season to do it.

The list of former Premier League clubs now residing in League One grows with each passing year.

Sunderland, Ipswich Town, Portsmouth, Charlton Athletic, bitter rivals Sheffield Wednesday, Wigan Athletic and a resurgent Bolton Wanderers will all start the season today with the top six in mind.

MK Dons, Doncaster Rovers and Wycombe Wanderers – relegated alongside the Millers from the Championship – will be as strong as ever.

“I like the challenge. I don’t want to call them the so-called big teams, but there are some big teams in this league,” says Wood.

“It’s the most competitive League One I’ve seen in a fair few years, but we’ve got experience of getting out of it, so we’ll be strong.”

So what can Wood and his team-mates glean from previous promotion-winning campaigns from League One?

“Going on a good run, if I remember. That play-off season, from Christmas onwards we really kicked on,” recalls Wood, who scored both goals in the decisive Wembley win over Shrewsbury.

“That came from our fitness, we work hard, the gaffer works us hard in pre-season.

“Pre-season was and is horrendous at this club but it stands us in good stead not just for the short-term but in the long-term as well.

“So towards Christmas our fitness was strong and we were able to kick-on. That happened in our automatic promotion season as well.

“The key is longevity, it’s not the short-term because if you don’t have the best of starts, don’t panic, it’s a long old season and we’re more than capable.

“We’ve got some young, strong, fit players, very athletic, and people know what we’re about so we’ll be tough to play against.”

Everyone is younger than Wood in that Rotherham squad, as he happily acknowledges, but a youthful squad enhanced this week by the signings of Ollie Rathbone, 24, Hakeem Odoffin, 23, and Rarmani Edmonds-Green, 22, keeps him on his toes.

“My age at the moment is just a number to me,” says Wood, who is also relishing playing front of a full house again at the New York Stadium today.

“I’m feeling fit, but I’ve got to be fit. To play in this team I’ve got to keep my standards high. I can’t have days off training for resting because then I’m not up to the levels that all the other players are.

“There are times when I get looked after but I’ve got to be at my peak. When we’re running in pre-season I’m up near the top, I’m pushing all the young lads on saying ‘come on, if I can do it, you can do it’.

“I’d like to think I’m spurring everyone else on by what I’m doing in training.

“The back end of last season was a slog; physically and mentally.

“We didn’t train. We couldn’t recover. We couldn’t prepare properly for individual games.

“I don’t want to sound like I’m making excuses because at the end of the day we weren’t good enough. We blew it at certain times against certain teams.”

Putting that right is a season-long mission that begins today.