WHEN a relegated side locks horns with a promotion contender on the final day of the season, boos are usually reserved for the former as opposed to the latter.
But events at the AESSEAL New York Stadium tomorrow could yet dictate that Rotherham United supporters are the ones exclusively displaying the genuine good feeling and harmony at the final whistle, with the recriminations reserved for followers of play-off candidates Middlesbrough – should the Teesside club miss out on the top six.
Some 15 places and 30 points separate these two sides whose resource levels and aspirations can be accurately described as being polar opposites.
As it stands Boro’s sell-out 2,500 contingent head south with a spot of hope – mindful that victory tomorrow allied to Derby County failing to beat West Brom would book play-off participation for the second successive season.
Should Boro miss out then the mood music among sections of the club’s support who have been disaffected all season with the reign of Tony Pulis is likely to come to the fore again.
It may well be symptomatic of the volatility of many modern-day supporters, but it represents the reality, rightly or wrongly, that the Welshman has been dealing with in 2018-19.
Despite their side being in the top-six scene all season this has been a disharmonious campaign on Teesside, yet the tantalising potential remains for Boro to somehow save their campaign.
Should seventh-placed Boro, one place and a point below Derby, fail to extend it, Pulis believes that it is too simplistic to judge it as a failure and feels that perspective should be given.
Whether that proves to be the case is a moot point.
The Boro chief said: “It all depends on which way you look at it. If you look at it from a financial point of view, then we are £40m in profit from sales since I came to the football club, and we have cut the wage bill by a quarter or a third.
“The playing staff have been reduced by about nine, and that has got us into a position where we are in line with all the Financial Fair Play regulations.
“We have done all of that and still have a chance of getting into the play-offs. If you look at the other side Derby have spent a fortune and Aston Villa have spent a fortune. Lots of other teams in the division have spent loads of money.
“We played Nottingham Forest the other week – we have sold players for over £50m, Forest had bought players in that squad that played us for over £56m. So there was a £100m deficit in what the two clubs had done this season. But nobody talks about that, that is fact.”
This said the resources at Boro’s disposal remain at levels that Pulis’s counterpart Paul Warne would not even dream about.
Despite seeing his side relegated last weekend, the Millers’ manager has rightly earned plaudits for ensuring that his side – big relegation favourites before a ball was kicked and with comfortably the lowest budget in the division – have been ultra-competitive.
Few away from Teesside at least would begrudge him a winning end to a season when his players have given everything and earned the wholesome respect of their supporters, even accounting for their demotion back to League One.
The Millers’ last home appointment with Boro certainly proved an eventful one with a last-gasp goal from Lee Frecklington giving the hosts a dramatic 1-0 win during their ‘great escape’ under Neil Warnock in the final third of an eventful 2015-16 season.
A win today would feel less special, but would still be cherished dearly by Warne, eager to provide the Millers’ faithful with a positive final-day souvenir from a season that has been enriching despite the disappointment of relegation.
Warne, whose side impressed in a 0-0 draw in the reverse fixture last autumn, said: “If we had taken it to the last game of the season then I would have really fancied us.
“It would have been a much greater achievement than last year and it would have been something that I would have treasured forever.
“But I still will treasure the way in which the lads have put their heart and soul into the season.
“We were so close, but no cigar. If a few of those draws turned into wins and a few decisions here and there... it was close, but unfortunately just not enough.
“If we were fortunate enough to have a good season next year and bounce back then we have definitely learned lessons.
“We are definitely a stronger club behind the scenes and will be in even better fettle for it.”