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End-of-season report: Rotherham United

Sports Mole looks back over a memorable season for Rotherham United, which saw them secure Championship safety with two games remaining.

After winning successive promotions from League Two, Championship survival would have been considered a huge success for Rotherham United as they embarked on their first season in the second tier since 2004-05.

With the outspoken Steve Evans at the helm, they fought their way to safety but there were a few nervous moments along the way.

The Yorkshire side made a decent start to the campaign, climbing as high as 14th in October, but one win in 11 games prior to Christmas saw them drop down the table.

Steve Evans, manager of Rotherham United during the Pre Season Friendly match between Rotherham United and Nottingham Forest at The New York Stadium on July 23, 2014© Getty Images

They managed to keep a reasonable gap between themselves and the bottom three in the months that followed, but their survival hopes took a blow in April when they were docked three points by the Football League for fielding an ineligible player in the victory over Brighton & Hove Albion earlier that month.

The deduction meant that they were just a point clear of the relegation zone, although they had a game in hand on the sides below. Evans galvanised his troops when it mattered most and they won their extra game to avoid the drop, sparking wild celebrations at the New York Stadium.

Five key results

Rotherham United 1-0 Wolverhampton Wanderers, August 16, 2014: Two of the promoted sides from League One met at the New York Stadium on the second weekend of the season. There was little to separate the sides but it would be Rotherham who claimed the points courtesy of Ryan Hall, who pounced on a loose ball before firing into an empty net.

Wigan Athletic 1-2 Rotherham United, December 20, 2014: Evans's side had gone nine games without a win ahead of this trip to fellow relegation candidates Wigan Athletic. The Millers were three points clear of the bottom three before kickoff and needed a win to put some daylight between them and the drop zone. Tom Lawrence's goal set them on their way in the first half, only for Ben Watson to equalise in the 64th minute. However, just one minute after Watson scored, Alex Revell's header caught Scott Carson out and settled proceedings.

Rotherham United 2-0 Ipswich Town, February 7, 2015: Rotherham's record against the top six doesn't make for encouraging reading. Their only win against one of the promotion-chasers came against Ipswich Town in February, but it was a crucial one as it extended the gap between themselves and the relegation spots. Matt Derbyshire opened the scoring in the first half but Rotherham did not have it all their own way as Ipswich pushed for an equaliser. The home defence held firm, though, and were rewarded midway through the second half as Conor Sammon popped up to consign his former employers to defeat.

Rotherham United 1-0 Brighton & Hove Albion, April 6, 2015: This result proved to be one of the most significant in Rotherham's season, but for all the wrong reasons. The Millers beat their relegation rivals 1-0 at the New York Stadium thanks to a Derbyshire strike, but Evans selected defender Farrend Rawson for the match despite his youth loan from Derby County having expired. Two weeks later, the three points were deducted and Rotherham's Championship status was at risk.

Rotherham United 2-1 Reading, April 28, 2015:

Lee Frecklington of Rotherham celebrates his goal with team mates Matt Derbyshire during the Sky Bet Championship match between Rotherham United and Reading at The New York Stadium on April 28, 2015© Getty Images

Four days after their points deduction, Rotherham faced Reading in their game in hand, knowing that victory would be enough to secure safety. The home side took the lead early in the second half through Derbyshire then doubled it when Lee Frecklington tapped home a fine cross from Danny Ward at the back post. Oliver Norwood pulled one back for Reading three minutes from time to set up a nervous finale, but the Millers held on for the win they needed to stay up. Fans invaded the pitch and the champagne soon started flowing as Evans and his players celebrated their achievement.

Best Player - Craig Morgan

Morgan skippered Rotherham to back-to-back promotions to reach the Championship and the defender had no problem in coping with the step up to the second tier.

Bryan Ruiz of Fulham battles with Craig Morgan of Rotherham United during the Sky Bet Championship match between Fulham and Rotherham United at Craven Cottage on April 15, 2015© Getty Images

The 29-year-old led his side through some tricky situations during the season, none more so than the points deduction and subsequent 2-1 win over Reading that kept the Millers up, which led Evans to describe his captain's performance in that game as "absolutely stunning". Unfortunately, Morgan is out of contract this summer and has opted to join Wigan Athletic, even though they were one of the three sides to finish below the Millers and go down.

Most Improved Player - Ben Pringle

Pringle is another player who has been with the Millers since their League Two days and he too handled the step up to Championship football with ease. The energetic winger was one of the main threats from the left flank, with his pace and good delivery causing problems for opposing defences. He enjoyed a productive season, scoring three times and contributing seven assists.

Ben Pringle of Rotherham United disputes the decision of the linesman during the Sky Bet League One match between Rotherham United and Peterborough United on December 5, 2013© Getty Images

However, he is out of contract this summer and Rotherham will have their work cut out to keep him. It is thought that they have offered the 25-year-old a new deal, but with the likes of Leeds United, Ipswich Town and Bolton Wanderers said to be chasing him, Pringle might decide to call time on his career with the Yorkshire side.

Best Signing - Richard Smallwood

The 25-year-old initially linked up with Rotherham last season on loan from Middlesbrough, helping them to win promotion from League One. He joined them again on an emergency loan deal in August, which was soon made permanent for £175,000. Smallwood became a key member of the side, with his fine displays in defensive midfield making the fee that they paid out for him look like a bargain. He has quickly established himself as a regular under Evans and he will be looking to continue his development next season.

Best Goal - Jonson Clarke-Harris vs. Leeds United

One of the fixtures that Rotherham would have been looking forward to following promotion was the Yorkshire derby against Leeds United. The first meeting between the sides for six years took place at the New York Stadium in October and was won by this fine individual goal.

With the game evenly poised at 1-1 midway through the second period, young striker Clarke-Harris picked the ball up just inside the Leeds half and drove forward. With four Whites defenders between him and the goal, the frontman unleashed a powerful drive from 25 yards that flew into the bottom corner of the net.

Must Do Better - Jordan Bowery

Rotherham broke their transfer record to sign Bowery for £160,000 from Aston Villa last summer. The 23-year-old enjoyed a productive spell at Chesterfield earlier in his career and, despite the fact that his big move to Villa did not work out, it was hoped that he would find his form again with the Millers.

The frontman showed signs of promise throughout the season but struggled to hold down a starting place. His performances got better towards the end of the campaign, but he will need to improve on the five goals that he scored if he wants a regular spot in the team.

Jordan Bowery of Rotherham looks to get past Brighton's Gordon Greer during the Sky Bet Championship match between Brighton & Hove Albion and Rotherham United at The Amex Stadium on October 25, 2014© Getty Images

End-of-season grade: B+

Evans did well to get Rotherham in the Championship in the first place, so keeping them there must rank as one of the finest achievements of his managerial career. The Millers held their own against more illustrious opponents, especially at home, and would have finished even higher had they been more clinical in attack. Still, there is plenty for them to build on next season and, provided that they bring in quality where they need it, they could make a surprise push for mid-table.

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Ben Pringle of Rotherham United battles with Ryan Tunnicliffe of Fulham during the Sky Bet Championship match between Fulham and Rotherham United at Craven Cottage on April 15, 2015
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