Time is on optimistic Rotherham United’s side this summer

Tony Stewart may not be planning for a Wembley outfit this year, but his relief at Rotherham United measuring up in many other aspects is clear to see almost exactly 12 months on.

Rotherham United chairman Tony Stewart with manager Paul Warne after last May's League One play-off final win at Wembley (Picture: Nigel French/PA Wire).
Rotherham United chairman Tony Stewart with manager Paul Warne after last May's League One play-off final win at Wembley (Picture: Nigel French/PA Wire).

The Millers celebrate the first anniversary of that glorious Richard Wood-inspired League One play-off final victory over Shrewsbury Town on Monday, with that heady late Spring occasion being the precursor to several days of joyous celebration, culminating in an open-top bus tour of the town and a civic reception.

While Rotherham folk justifiably caroused and celebrated a special achievement amid a glorious reawakening of the town’s football club in the space of just 12 months, the reality of just what lay in store soon kicked in for those in the corridors of power at the AESSEAL New York Stadium.

Preparation time for their return to the Championship – top heavy with big-city clubs armed with an arsenal of cash – had been curtailed by their involvement in the end-of-season lottery.

As a result rivals stole a march on the Millers in terms of recruitment with the club unsure what division they would be in until the end of May.

There will be no Wembley this year for Rotherham, who also find themselves back in the third tier from which they came, but contingencies and plans are at least much further down the line.

The early-April appointment of head of recruitment Rob Scott and chief scout Chris Trotter has aided greatly in that ground work.

Stewart told The Yorkshire Post: “This time last season we went down to Wembley, so now we have had three weeks advantage and more time to prepare.

“I do believe we will have the preparation right and will be ready to show what we can do.

“We felt sorry for ourselves (immediately after relegation) in that we possibly could have been there and I would have loved to have still been there as we would have developed.

“But we still have a strong side and systems in place which we have not had in before, and a new recruitment team.

“The investment has gone in and it is no different (next season) to what it would have been in the Championship.

“We are still going for the same players and if there are certain people who leave and have been eyed – as many people felt Rotherham were a good side – I still think that clubs would have been still knocking at the door if we had been in the Championship.”

Stewart is philosophical enough to acknowledge that the Millers may renew acquaintances with League One without some of the leading lights who made a name for themselves in a Championship season when the club finished in the bottom three, but were nearly always competitive and earned the full respect of their second-tier rivals.

The likes of Will Vaulks – reportedly attracting the attention of ex-Millers chief Neil Warnock at Cardiff City – Semi Ajayi, Clark Robertson and Michael Smith are known to have their admirers.

The smart money may be on one or two departing, but the Millers’ chairman is unequivocal in his belief that the club will cope with any departures.

He added: “Yes, we would like to keep all the guys and most are on contracts. But at the end of the day, whether we are in League One or the Championship, when people come knocking and start getting their wallets out it is not a case of what we want.

“In effect it turns the heads of players because if they get offered two or three more times in wages, you cannot stand in the way of the ambition of your players.

“But we feel good and confident and know what we need to do. The team of people including the manager, backroom and recruitment staff are hard at it trying to get people in.”

What is also abundantly clear is that there will be no lingering hangover traditionally associated with relegated teams when the Millers players reconvene for pre-season in early July.

That sense of pride, defiance and optimism was shown at the club’s end-of-season dinner.

This was no funereal occasion; quite the opposite, in fact, with the Millers having rediscovered their mojo over the past two years and the story hopefully having some successful chapters to run.

In comparison to two seasons ago, those in red and white went down fighting as opposed to with an embarrassing whimper.

The Millers’ chairman added: “I think we achieved a lot last season and the knowledge that the young manager and staff have developed has been a benefit.

“We entertained the fans and when we had the end-of-season dinner you would have thought we were going up and not down.

“It was just a different atmosphere and you cannot explain it. Usually when you go down you are disappointed. But we were not flattened.

“Now we are more prepared and are a better side than when we came down last time.

“We have high expectations and I know fans will want what we want. We have to deliver.

“With the investment gone in, we think we will be a contender.”