The hangover following relegation left Rotherham United feeling like they were starting life in League One “on minus 10 points”.
This is the view of Millers assistant manager Richie Barker after a demoralising campaign in the Championship last season.
Rotherham won just five games all season in the Championship, eventually being relegated with only 23 points to their name and after conceding a mammoth 98 goals.
The negative impact may not have been visible in the league table when Rotherham United kicked off in the third tier in August, but the psychological damage inflicted on a team who had “forgotten how to win” was clear to see, according to Paul Warne’s No 2.
It meant Warne and Barker had plenty of hard graft to do to rebuild confidence and belief, and restore some pride at the AESSEAL New York Stadium.
“Without being negative, my opinion is we didn’t start on zero points, but minus 10,” said Barker.
Off the back of a very difficult season – conceding the best part of a 100 goals and getting just 23 points – we had a lot of players who were still mentally scarred from that. We needed to teach them how to win football matches again.Rotherham assistant Richie Barker
“People will think what’s he talking about, but off the back of a very difficult season – conceding the best part of a 100 goals and getting just 23 points – we had a lot of players who were still mentally scarred from that.
“We needed to teach them how to win football matches again.
“I was told a statistic a couple of weeks ago; since 2015 Rotherham United have lost more football matches than any other club in the country.
“Losing had become a bit of a habit at this football club and that doesn’t turn around in three months.
“Learning to win football matches again, trying to get a positive mentality, as well as trying to stem the flow of goals.
“The majority of these players played in a team that conceded (almost) 100 goals last year; that’s not going to change overnight.
“It’s been difficult, but we have put plenty of things in place which we think will change that around.”
Victory over Plymouth Argyle today would double the total of league wins the Millers managed in the entire Championship campaign last season.
After 21 games, the league table has settled down and is now starting to take shape, with Rotherham ninth – just six points off the top six.
“We are two games short of halfway now and if you look at the last 17 or 18 games it comes in two major blocks,” said Barker.
“One, very successful, seven wins out of nine, one not as successful, with one win in eight.
“I genuinely believe if we had gone win one, lose one, draw one, everyone would have said that’s a fair season.
“But due to the fact we spent a couple of weeks in fourth, before that spent a couple of weeks in 17th, and have now settled somewhere in between, suggests we are where we should be.
“I think the majority of people would have stated as long as we are within touching distance of the play-offs for the majority of the season then we wouldn’t be a million miles away from where we set off to be.”
Rotherham desperately needed last week’s 2-1 win at Blackpool to end a winless streak in the league that had crept to seven games.
Two goals from striker David Ball secured victory, a relief for both club and player.
Former Manchester City youngster Ball has struggled for games since arriving from Fleetwood Town during the summer.
A combination of injuries and the prolific form of Kieffer Moore had kept the 28-year-old on the sidelines.
But with three goals in three starts – and Moore out suspended – Ball has grabbed his opportunity with both hands.
“Right from day one in pre-season, and when we wanted to sign him, we knew his quality, and how important he could be,” said Barker.
“In pre-season we realised how good he actually was.
“He has been frustrated with injuries and illness, then we had a little spell where we couldn’t quite get him in the team – understandably so, winning seven out of nine.
“Hopefully now he has played the last three or four he has picked up the mantle since Kieffer got suspended.
“Hopefully he will continue that now and become a mainstay of the team.”
With speculation that Moore may be recalled early from his loan spell by parent club Ipswich Town in January, Warne will need to find a new-look strikeforce.
Barker says that if Moore does indeed exit it will open up another chance for strikers at the club like Ball, Johnson Clarke-Harris or Jerry Yates.
He said: “Nobody is bigger or more important than any football club or team.
“Kieffer has done fantastic for us and if he stays that will be great.
“If he doesn’t then one person moving on is always someone else’s opportunity. That could be David’s, Jonno’s, Jerry’s or someone else who comes in fresh.
“When we lost Jamie in the game at Charlton earlier in the season everyone was devastated – we still are for him and he’s well on the road to recovery – but what came out of that was we played Kieffer as a lone striker in a 4-3-3 and went on and won seven out of nine.
“Football has a way that someone’s misfortune leads to someone’s opportunity. Careers are built that way.”