Rotherham rejuvenated but heartbreak for Shrewsbury

Gabriel Sutton by Gabriel Sutton / 28 May 2018, 12:33

Rotherham United have been promoted to the Championship, after centre-back Richard Wood’s first brace of his career gave them a 2-1 extra-time victory over Shrewsbury Town in the League One Play-Off Final.

Rotherham rejuvenated

After Gareth Bale came off the bench to score a brace and win the Champions League for Real Madrid on Saturday night, his post-match comments – which referenced his lack of game time and hinted at him wanting either a move or a new contract – seemed quite self-indulgent.

At a time when money appears to impact the mentality of footballers, at least at the elite level, it was refreshing to see a more appealing brace-scoring protagonist. Millers centre-back Wood didn’t once complain when he was dropped for the first five league games; he instead remained a positive influence around the dressing room.

And Rotherham now have plenty of those. Paul Warne, who describes himself as a ‘humanist’, did extensive due diligence on every player he brought last summer. He assessed not just their technical ability, but also spoke to them one-on-one to get a feel for their character.

Wide man Ryan Williams who had signed from Barnsley, for example, might have been disappointed to have been dropped to the bench on Sunday after playing an important role in the semi-final win over Scunthorpe. And yet, when he came on, he made a huge difference by running directly at his opponents and bringing his teammates into play.

That togetherness Warne has cultivated helped the Millers respond strongly to set-backs. When key target man Kieffer Moore left in January, many questioned how it would affect the build-up play but Michael Smith has proved a fine replacement.

Despite a modest return of six goals in 22 appearances, Smith has provided a focal point. He controls aerial crosses from deep, but then benefits from having a plethora of willing runners showing clever movement around him to break into goalscoring positions. He didn’t necessarily have that when he struggled at Bury in the first half of the season, which is another indication that Rotherham’s system enhances the quality of individuals.

The South Yorkshire outfit also looks far more energetic than we saw in 2016-17, an improvement epitomized by the form of Will Vaulks, who has been a true battler in midfield.

Rotherham are back in the Championship and although it is too early to say how they will do there, one thing is for certain – that group of players will never be found wanting for fight and togetherness.

Shrewsbury's story ends in heartbreak

After competing admirably for 61 games, more than any team in England has played throughout 2017-18, Shrewsbury Town could not quite find the energy to perform in that 62nd and last match which defined their season.

Perhaps they were hindered by the second half injury to Carlton Morris, which disrupted their system shortly after the equalizer during their best spell, but overall the players didn’t do themselves justice.

The qualities which Salop have been renowned for, intense pressing and incisive passing, we didn’t see and they could very easily have lost 3-1 in 90 minutes, but for two excellent Dean Henderson saves.

Be it due to fatigue or nerves, this underperformance on the big stage means that instead of being celebrated as a team that managed 87 points on one of the lowest budgets as they should be, Shrewsbury will remember this extraordinary season with a tinge of regret.

Paul Hurst was tellingly non-committal about his future, which fuels expectation of a move to Ipswich Town and if so, he will leave his successor a huge re-building project. Carlton Morris and Ben Godfrey, the latter being arguably the pick of the Wembley bunch, return to parent club Norwich while fellow loanee Henderson is going back to Manchester United.

Alex Rodman is out of contract while five first team regulars only have a year left, which means it is possible that the eleven that lines up in August might look very different to the side that has taken League One by storm.

Shrewsbury have confounded their doubters and enthralled the neutrals to become one of the stories of the EFL season; for that, they deserve great credit. However, the club hasn’t played in the second tier since 1989, so for all the plaudits that have rightly come their way, it is hard to avoid the feeling that they have missed a wonderful opportunity.

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