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Rotherham's Indian summer born from the rain clouds at Bolton

Whether a club’s season ends in success, failure or mediocrity, there is usually one moment that when the dust has settled you can look back on and pinpoint as decisive.

A goal disallowed, a clearance off the line, a sending off or an injury to a key player – there are a whole host of events that while minute in the grand scheme of the season, can have a massive impact on its outcome.

For Rotherham there is little doubt where their season-defining moment came.

The winter, which had been mild by anyone’s standards, was offering a late moment of defiance as the Millers headed over the Pennines and towards a sky full of grey cloud and rain.

Unfortunately for them, that unforgiving Lancashire weather arranged itself in a neat formation with the metaphorical clouds that were gathering over their season.

Fresh from a sobering, and damaging, home defeat to Charlton, Neil Redfearn’s men were thrust into another relegation ding-dong at Bolton, who at the time had a slim, but renewed, hope of beating the drop.

In lashing, freezing February rain, an early blow, which saw them concede in the opening two minutes, had been recovered with a first-half equaliser and going into the second half, the Millers were the better team and looking most likely to find a second goal.

Then, midway through the second half, probably around 4.25pm to be more precise, the moment which had the biggest impact on their season came.

A cross from the right was headed down by Joe Newell to Andrew Shinnie, who found himself unmarked and with the goal gaping 10 yards out.

The on-loan Birmingham man, making his first start, could have done anything he wanted with it, such was the time and space he had been afforded by the generous Bolton defence.

Yet, when the ball dropped to him, Shinnie snatched at it, hitting it left-footed into the ground. While he made good enough contact with it, his shot was too close to Ben Amos and the grateful Bolton goalkeeper palmed the ball away for a corner.

It was a golden chance. A massive miss, one that felt so at the time and would go on and prove to be.

While delving into the hypothetical, it is a safe enough assessment to say that in all likelihood had Shinnie found the back of the net with that chance Rotherham would have gone on and won the game, such was their dominance.

The hypothetical was a much sweeter tale than the reality as, unable to make the breakthrough that their second-half play had warranted, the Millers were hit by a sickening sucker-punch, with Bolton stealing the points with a last-gasp winner, deep into time added on of time added on.

It never rained but it poured for Redfearn. 

A second successive defeat to relegation rivals and dropping back into the bottom three, chairman Tony Stewart, sat watching the game with a representative of Neil Warnock, had seen enough.

Less than 48 hours later the Millers boss had been sacked, becoming the shortest serving manager in the club’s history.

The fact that Stewart was in the stands with Warnock’s ally Mickey Walker says a lot about the mindset of the Millers chairman and his increasing unease at the way things were going under Redfearn.

But undoubtedly, had Shinnie buried that chance in the Macron Stadium that cold and wet afternoon and the Millers gone on to get something out of that game with Bolton, Redfearn would not have lost his job at that time.

And had that been the case, the amazing chain of events that led to Warnock becoming the Millers manager and inspiring them to a deluge of points would never have occurred.

The circumstances of a potential Warnock appointment at any other time would surely have meant a run like the one he has masterminded would not have been possible.

Of course, who's to say that Redfearn would not have led the Millers to safety? That is one thing we will never know.

But, in all probability, even had they been singing in the rain at Bolton, their fate would have been far less secure than it has ended up being. 

It's shuddering to think what lied in store for the Millers without Warnock at the helm, but in truth it was probably a soaking at Bury, Rochdale and Oldham.

That is meant more as a compliment to the Warnock effect than an insult to Redfearn's shortcomings. Even Jose Mourinho, Sir Alex Ferguson or any other managerial heavyweight would have struggled to replicate what the 67-year-old has in the last two months.

Indeed, the Millers have been enjoying the rainbow in recent weeks as they have surged to safety on the back of an 11-game unbeaten run.

But it probably would not have been possible had it not been for that rainy day in Bolton and that Andrew Shinnie miss.

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