MATT Mills is poised to become the first big casualty of Neil Lennon’s summer clear-out, and he is unlikely to be the last.

Captain for much of this season – and one of only a small handful of players to feature in 40 games – the defender was not the first name that sprung to mind when major changes in personnel were first mooted by the manager some months ago.

Wanderers will release their retained list in the next couple of days, confirming that the 28-year-old will be given a free transfer when his contract runs out at the end of June.

The speed at which Mills’ stock has fallen with the Whites is quite something, even considering the club’s alarming late-season slump in form.

Just a month ago Lennon confirmed Wanderers had made a contract offer to Mills, keeper Adam Bogdan and midfielder Darren Pratley and was hoping for a swift resolution so that his rebuilding operation could begin.

“The ball is in their court now, we’ve made them good offers,” he said after the home defeat to Norwich City.” There will be a bit of to and fro now but I need to make changes. It’s costing us.

“I don’t want to stand here in front of you guys and have the same conversation every two weeks.”

Mills had picked up the captain’s armband after Jay Spearing’s departure to Blackburn Rovers on loan and, in the manager’s words, was playing his best football since his days at Reading prior to Christmas.

He had chipped in with some important goals, including a winner at Birmingham City in the Northern Irishman’s first game in charge, and even filled in as a makeshift striker later in the campaign.

Mills spoke of his pride at leading the club up the table, his best form also timed with the arrival of his baby daughter Lyla. The prospect back then of him being allowed to leave for nothing was slim at best.

When Fulham asked about a potential loan deal in January they were quickly sent packing. The relationship between club and player looked to be on a safe footing.

But that was when things were going well for Lennon and Wanderers, before their New Year slump left both the fans and the manager in agreement that major changes were needed.

Mills missed a few games in February with a knee problem and was then given a very public rebuke by Lennon after picking up a red card in the 4-1 defeat at Dougie Freedman’s Nottingham Forest.

On his return from suspension against Brighton the defender hit back at some of the criticism that had been levelled at him.

“A few games ago people were asking me when I was going to sign (a new contract),” he said. “Then I was out for three weeks, played 45 minutes and made one of my first mistakes of the season and all of a sudden it was ‘I have to prove myself all over again.’

“People in football have short memories and that’s what drives you on to perform.”

Two short months later and any hope of a play-off push had disappeared, along with talk of Mills’ contract.

Mills struggled with an ankle problem in the last month of the campaign and played just once in the final five games. An Instagram message thanking fans and his family for their support seems to have been his parting gesture at the club.

But was Mills’ rapid fall from grace a product of that brief spell of poor form, or a symptom of something much larger at Wanderers?

In order to create his own money to spend this summer Lennon will have to cut back wherever he can, then hope he can spend the money he saves before it is swallowed up elsewhere.

When the defender arrived his wage was agreed by a club still protected by parachute payments and anticipating a quick return to the Premier League. Such expectations seem fanciful now.

If Lennon is to build on last season’s modest finish it seems he’ll have to do it the hard way, counting pounds and pennies at every juncture.