As the dust settles on 12 summer signings and seven departures at Rotherham United, one thing is abundantly clear.
The Millers squad setting out on their Championship adventure on Saturday is far stronger than the one which began life in the second tier for the first time under manager Steve Evans 12 months ago.
“Midtable looking up,” is Evans’ aim for the new campaign, and he’s surrounded himself with a good-looking blend of experienced second-tier operators and young talent in his bid to make it happen.
Greg Halford, Danny Collins, ex-Sheffield Wednesday trio Joe Mattock, Lewis Buxton and Chris Maguire, Emmanuel Ledesma, Aidy White and Joe Newell have been there many times between them at this level.
Ex-Manchester United youngster Tom Thorpe, Spurs 20-year-old Grant Ward and Derby loan duo Kelle Roos and Farrend Rawson, 23 and 19 respectively, complete the mix. Central defender Thorpe, midfielder Ward and goalkeeper Roos are likely opening-day starters at home to MK Dons while centre-half Rawson will push for a place when he is fit after a pre-season injury.
Evans was criticised last year for bringing in too many players too fast, some of whom weren’t up to the job.
Not this time.
The Millers manager has been focused and measured in his recruitment and, bearing in mind the comparative smallness of his playing budget compared to some of the big guns in the Championship, appears to have hardly put a foot wrong.
He has given himself options. Many of the new boys can play in more than one position, and that flexibility will be invaluable as Rotherham run with a relatively small squad next season.
Crucially, they also have a season in the Championship, playing against major clubs most weeks, under their belt. Lessons learned last year will be put to good use this term.
Plenty of new faces then, but remaining very much in evidence are the team spirit and work ethic which in the last three years have brought two promotions and seen the club fight off a three-point Football League deduction to survive in a division where 17 clubs can boast a Premier League history.
The new boys bonded with the old guard during the club’s tour of Scotland. There’s nothing like 10 days of 24-7 living together to bring a squad together.
Players who headed north of the border as teammates came back as pals, friendships forged by playing together, karaoke sessions and Evans reckoning he can do a mean Rod Stewart impersonation in the privacy of his hotel room.
It also helps when pre-season form and results, culminating in last Saturday’s win over Bundesliga side FSV Mainz 05, have been so encouraging.
“Shape” has been the buzzword - you can hear it being bellowed from the dugout - and new coach Eric Black’s influence in this area has been plain to see.
Evans and assistant manager Paul Raynor have attacking instincts running through them. Black has tightened things up at the back and Rotherham have a meaner and more disciplined look about them now when they’re out of possession
“We’re trying to keep our shape, our organisation and our discipline,” Evans said. “It’s a different way for me and Paul Raynor. We normally go out and try and win 10-9! We’re trying to balance that with Eric’s expertise. and keep our shape and get behind the ball.
“But at times we’ll lose that. We want to get a mix, because we don’t want lose that mentality to go and affect and win a game. Whatever team we set off with at New York, we just can’t do that.
“We have to make sure when we give possession away we work so hard to get back in and keep a solid shape behind the ball. I think last season, for all the success of staying up, at times we were a bit loose in that department.”
The only real blip since the end of last season has been the 10-match FA ban handed down to centre-half Kirk Broadfoot, for an alleged sectarian outburst at Wigan Athletic forward James McClean in March.
The FA have said very little on the matter and Rotherham, apparently bound by a confidentiality clause, haven’t even publicly acknowledged the suspension.
As Evans might croon: “I don’t want to talk about it.”
Gone are double-promotion heroes former skipper Craig Morgan, Ben Pringle, Kari Arnason. But, interestingly, Collins, White and Grant Ward - who play in the positions once occupied by that esteemed trio - have been the standout performers in pre-season, with one or two others not far behind.
Collins, 34 years young, will be a key string-puller at the back with his experience and ability to read the game, and he’s brought the best out of Thorpe alongside him. White has pace to burn and a point to prove after spending last season injured at Leeds. No team in pre-season has been able to rein him in. Ward, who was quiet against Mainz after a bright start, is inexperienced, but the balance, pace and eye for a goal he has showed in other games mark him out as a real talent.
Much will depend on how well goalkeeper Kelle Roos takes his chance. If the 6ft 5in 23-year-old Dutchman, on a season-long loan from Derby County, can hit the heights of last season’s loan star, Emi Martinez, then the Millers should be in business.
If striker Matt Derbyshire produces his scoring form of the second half of last season then they certainly are
“In Kelle we’ve got a young man who is trying to make progress and is getting better, and we’re going to try do help him do that,” Evans said.
As the squad of 24 - minus one for 10 games, with perhaps two more additions to come - prepare to embark on their new quest, feet are firmly on the floor in the Millers camp, but there’s a nice tingle of anticipation and excitment among the club’s fans who like what they’re seeing so far.
Midtable? Very possible. Looking up? I think things are.
All attention now turns to opening day - noisy New York, the Pukka waft of pies, that perfect pitch, 1,000 new home shirts, hope in hearts, football back.
Enjoy ... but spare a thought for one man stuck in the stand in his club blazer.
Saturday is his birthday.