THE recent high temperatures will have felt reassuringly warm on the back of Rotherham United captain Richard Wood.
For proud, senior professionals across the land like Wood, the tail end of football seasons is a time for reflection; inspiring hope and opportunity for the fortunate ones, yet also provoking deep-seated disappointment and a fair bit of anxiety among others.
At this mid-Spring juncture, things are currently set fair for Wood. Given some worrying times at the back end of seasons in recent years, he is entitled to think he is overdue some relief.
Not that the Millers’ defensive organiser is resting on his laurels, with the play-offs and, hopefully, promotion to strive for.
But 12 months on from wondering whether he had a future at the club – the third time in his career that he was facing a summer of uncertainty after previously being out of contract at Charlton Athletic and Coventry City – the centre-back, 33 in June, is glad to be spared that ordeal again.
His strong form at the back for the promotion-chasing Millers – whose play-off participation looks increasingly certain – earned him a new 18-month deal in January, just six months after signing a 12-month contract.
His club’s resounding feats since early December have added to his sense of well-being, with the tantalising prospect of a very good season transforming into a truly special one being not lost upon him.
Wood told The Yorkshire Post: “It has been a tough few years and this is my fourth season here. Even before that, I had one season at Charlton and did not really settle there and, previously at Coventry, I went through some tough times towards the end of my contract there.
“This has been one of the most enjoyable seasons I have had for a long time. It has just been nice to be playing regularly and being captain.
“Everything is going well. We are winning games, are near the top of the league and, hopefully, getting into the play-offs. At this stage of my career, it is perfect.
“Winning games is always enjoyable. I enjoyed the 11-run unbeaten run under (Neil) Warnock when we stayed up, but I had not played the full season and only got involved when he came in.
“The only other season I look back on like this is when I got promoted at Sheffield Wednesday and we went up through the play-offs.
“Last season was very hard, to be honest, and losing every week is not what you want to be doing. You play football to win. Now it is such a refreshing change and the whole atmosphere around the club has changed and that is down to the manager as well – with the players he has brought in and how he gives us a positive mindset.
“It is a great place to train now and everyone is enjoying it and it is rubbing off with the results.”
Wood has certainly had a grand week. After helping his side check Wigan’s charge to automatic promotion with a 0-0 draw last weekend, the rugged stopper and his team-mates produced a performance of stature in Tuesday’s 1-0 win at Gillingham.
Hard-fought victories on long midweek trips on the road are the hallmark of many a successful side, with events in Kent also in keeping with Rotherham’s indomitable form for most of the second half of the campaign, and auguring well for battles ahead.
As you may expect, it was a night which the ‘old pro’ in Wood derived plenty of pleasure from ahead of this afternoon’s home test with Bristol Rovers, when victory will all but assure a place in the end-of-season lottery.
Wood added: “It was a perfect Tuesday night. We had a dip in form a few weeks back, but I think we are through that now and the lads put in a brilliant performance, one of the best of the season considering what is at stake.
“We had conceded a few sloppy goals in recent weeks and to get two clean sheets on the bounce is just what we have needed.”
With three matches left in the regular season and the Millers looking a top-six shoo-in, talk has turned to utilising the club’s squad resources to keep key players fresh for a likely play-off shot.
But rest is the last thing on anyone’s mind, according to Wood.
He said: “I am not sure what he (manager Paul Warne) is going to do. But I am not sure anyone wants to rest as we want momentum, hopefully, going into the play-offs.
“We need to keep winning and there is no better recipe for getting promoted than just keep winning games. Momentum is everything in football to keep our confidence up.”