Scunthorpe v Rotherham United: Millers have unfinished business, says Will Vaulks

On a mission: Rotherham's Will Vaulks. Picture: Chris Etchells
On a mission: Rotherham's Will Vaulks. Picture: Chris Etchells
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Will Vaulks could not get away from these shores fast enough this time last year.

Bruised after a horrendous grind of a season at Rotherham United – his first campaign with the Millers – the midfielder immediately headed to foreign climes to hit the refresh button.

His travels even took him to the other side of the world in Australia, but despite crossing numerous time zones and covering thousands of miles, the events of 2016-17 still gnawed away at him.

Finding peace and tranquillity was difficult and Vaulks was a restless soul.

This mid-May day Vaulks will find himself in Scunthorpe as opposed to some far-flung exotic destination, but his sense of well-being is far greater.

The Millers’ character-laden efforts of 2017-18 have put the desperate events of an abject and embarrassing previous season in the shade for Vaulks and company. Unfinished business may remain with the play-offs in full view, but at least a number of players involved last year have cleansed their minds.

On his experiences this time last year, Vaulks said: “I spent a lot of it out of the country. I went to visit my sister in Australia for two weeks, which was nice to get away from football. But I tried to stay as fit as I could and it was weird as usually you finish the season and feel like you want to do nothing.

“You want to chill out, but I felt like I needed to start running straightaway. I think I had five days or a week off and was back running. I think because it was such a disappointing season that I was cheating myself by relaxing. So I did quite a lot of fitness work to feel better about myself.

“I was out running in Australia, which was a bit hot. I knew I was ticking over and doing what was right and I knew I had a big year coming up as the year before was not good enough.”

The experiences of this season have proved cathartic not just for those involved with the Millers last term, but also a wider audience.

Those diehard supporters who wore pained and bewildered expressions during 2016-17 have learned to love again and the songs heard today among the sell-out 1,601 away contingent at Glanford Park will be chants of hope as opposed to despair.

A Millers squad whose unity, spirit and defiance is far removed from the brittle and fractured group of a year or so ago have healed wounds, with the story hopefully having a few more pages to run.

On the eye-catching makeover, Vaulks added: “We spend a lot of time together outside training, whereas last year there were a couple of cliques.

“It is hard in a losing team as you do not want to necessarily spend (extra) time with the lads. Hopefully this will be a group we remember. A promotion would be nice.

“We are not a typical bunch of footballers, I would say. We are not big-time and do enjoy each other’s company and do spend a lot of time away from the training ground together as well.

“We are just all a similar age, which helps, apart from Woody (Richard Wood). We all want to be successful, knowing we have not been successful yet and have not made it to where we want to be. We are all driving in the same direction, which can only help.

“I think fairly early on we also started to think we were a fairly good team. We noticed the players that the manager brought in all fitted in straight away, which is quite rare, to be honest.

“But whatever he does when he rings and speaks to them means he tends to find the right kind of people.

“I think probably after our bad spell, and we started to slip down and won at Blackpool, I noticed a contrast from last year.

“We had players who were willing to come back from being down and last season when we were 1-0 down in games it was almost like we were going to lose by even more. This season has been a bit different.”

Vaulks may be spurred on by events of last season in his current crusade, but there is further inspiration to draw upon.

The Wirral-born player is entitled to be mindful of some punishing late-season events north of the border following some bitter play-off final experiences with Falkirk and a tough last-gasp Scottish Cup final loss to Inverness at Hampden Park in 2015.

The following season Vaulks partially made up for that pain by netting a late winner in a key first-leg play-off win over Kilmarnock only for Killie to trounce the Bairns in the second leg.

Vaulks said: “I have played in three years of play-offs in Scotland and got to the final once and got beat and played in the Scottish Cup final and got beat.

“I have never won a final, so hopefully, if we get there...

“They were some of the toughest days in my life. The greatest days and the worst. With being a winner I hate losing. To lose on those days is tough, very tough.”

Ahead of facing the Iron, he said: “This is the time you show what you are really about. It is fairly easy to do it in the middle of the season where it does not matter so much if you win, lose or draw. But in games like these you do learn about people and see whether they have got it to stand up and do it on the big stage when it really matters.

“I think we have got players who can do that.

“I love this time, personally. It is a big one when your family and friends come to games, which they do not regularly for me with where my family is from. My mum and dad get too nervous to watch the games.

“When you look up and know your family and friends are there it would be so nice to celebrate with them after rather than going and crying on their shoulders.

“I will have a few here on Wednesday for the second leg and, hopefully, we will have a little lead or a draw.”