WIDNES Vikings supporters have been through some challenging times since their last golden period of the early 90s, but this third demotion since the switch to Super League is hard to stomach.

For a club that Dared to Dream after battling back from administration in 2007, the past two seasons have been a walking nightmare.

Wooden spoonists for two years in a row, and a shocking run of losses in 2018, the loss in Toronto which confirmed the drop was almost a mercy killing.

So it is back to the Championship; to the slope at Batley’s Mount Pleasant, the vocal fans at Featherstone and all those other grounds that they thought they had seen the back of when they returned to the top flight in 2012.

Widnes, who were cut out of the first Super League in 1996, finally won promotion in 2001 but the elevation of Catalans meant they were one of two teams relegated in 2005.

It was tough, but bankrolled by chairman Steve O’Connor Vikings battled out of administration and started moving forward.

They missed out in the first licensing period in 2009, but they managed to win the Northern Rail Cup to get the tick in the box to return to the top flight for the 2012 season.

There have been bright moments in that time and they steadily built under coach Denis Betts, finishing eighth and reaching the Challenge Cup semi-final in 2014.

They secured their highest Super League finish in 2016 – seventh. But what happened in the off-season ahead of 2017 proved calamitous.

They sold their marquee man and team’s linchpin Kevin Brown to rivals Warrington – and never adequately replaced him.

The team’s structure had been built around Brown and for two years they have looked rudderless without him.

Sacking Betts in May was a mere shuffling of the deckchairs on a ship that was going down.

Widnes fans around in the 90s know only too well that once you become a selling club, there is only one direction that they are heading.

Widnes struggled last year but showed spirit in the qualifiers to avoid the Million Pound Game, but this year abject failure in the play-offs have seen them capitulate.

They have had bad luck with injuries, admittedly, and losing strike centre Krisnan Inu with a broken leg for a long after Easter was a blow.

But there have been deficiencies in the squad – particularly the lack of some big men in the front row - that other clubs, of a similar standing, have been able to fix up.

In this past five years Vikings, since O’Connor’s departure as chairman, they have seen themselves overtaken by clubs like Castleford and Wakefield, who they were previously on a par with or above.

Widnes now drop into the Championship where they will at least get the opportunity to fight for a return.

The new system of one up, one down promotion and relegation means that the team winning a top five play off in the Championship will replace the team finishing bottom of the 2019 Super League.

They will get a parachute payment which will help them rebuild their squad and retain the players they want to take them forward.

The vultures will circle and big clubs will inevitable try and pick off some of the promising young players on the Vikings books.

But Widnes must be prudent in shipping out players who have not delivered the goods, and not make the mistakes of Leigh.

Next season is vital.

As Leigh found to their cost, being full time is not a guarantee of results. And everyone – from Fev to Barrow – will raise their game for the fallen Vikings.

And when you add into the mix that next year’s promotion battle will pitch Vikings against two of the three ambitious Championship teams that have already beaten them in the Qualifiers, London, Toronto and Toulouse the competition will be fierce.

And who knows what a rejuvenated Bradford Bulls will bring next year?

But Vikings have to get this next bit right – maybe easier said than done in a small town without huge investors or a sugar daddy.

The club are doing great things with the junior system, pushing more young players through. And off the field too, they have some excellent community-based initiatives.

But sport is all about results.

Lose and fail to entertain and the spectators will vote with their feet and the downward spiral continues.

Rugby league is such a part of Widnes’ DNA. It is what makes the town what it is and helps give it an identity that differentiates it from other suburbs of the 'city region'.

But those fans will not rally round in blind faith – they will back a club with a plan for going forward, as they have done in the past, but they will not cheerlead one that is simply in managed decline.