IT’S a great effort to have an 11 match away run which comprises seven wins, two draws and only two defeats. Any side would be chuffed to bits with something like that.
Imagine saying, back in late October, that you were about to set off on such a run. You’d be reckoning on looking at a side up in the top three if not clear of the pack by the end of it.
Rotherham United aren’t because of two things - their home record in that time and the two teams those two away defeats have been against.
Actually, despite all the big signings and the major players brought in, there have been similarities this season to recent ones - not least the play-off one of 2009/10. Beat the mid-table and lower teams away but fail to beat the teams at the top when it really mattered.
The two away defeats in the long, fruitful run which began after the 5-0 Dagenham debacle in mid-October have been at Burton and now Cheltenham. They’d swap these defeats for any of the seven wins.
Lose at Accrington but win at Burton? Dip at Torquay but sort out Cheltenham? That would have done for me. Pity you can’t get such results to order!
And no-one should underestimate the travels and travails of the past month. Long midweek trips to Torquay, Bristol Rovers, Oxford and
Wycombe with weekend jaunts to Southend and Cheltenham. They can take a toll and have an effect and we all know it can’t be easy on a winter’s Tuesday night in ... (fill in the blank).
So, some excellent results. But, just like at Burton, when it came to this particular crunch on Saturday they were ultimately found wanting.
With a surface softened by heavy pre-match rain, the conditions may have helped highlight the difference between the sides.
Rotherham generally like to build their attacks (yes, I know they whack it up towards Revell at times) . But here, on this surface and against eager opposition, it smacked of precise, tippy-tappy football not so much not going anywhere as not getting anywhere.
There has been criticism of the Millers overplaying, often not putting the ball in the box when the opportunity arises (it took just 90 seconds for one such opportunity to be criminally spurned) and it happened here. It all played into Cheltenham’s hands and they lapped it up. They robbed the Millers many times or forced them into error.
On the other hand, the home side - with a structure that was apparent - knew their game, their strengths and played to them. Crucially, in five areas of the team they had what Rotherham (who do things a different way) have generally lacked all season - pace.
This included their two wide men, McGlashan and Mohamed, who offered a cutting edge. Little Deering was a nippy nuisance. Benson hasn’t any pace but he’s the foil for those who have.
On the day, it was one team with a structure, a specific organised way of doing things, who knew what they were going to do next, against a side whose reliance appeared to be on skilful individuality. Rotherham flaws were exposed.
What has worked for the Millers over this excellent away run didn’t this time. It’s not to say they didn’t threaten and they certainly had enough of the ball, but once they were behind there was a certain inevitability about it all.
The word afterwards from the Cheltenham camp (beaten 3-1 at Burton last time out after setting up defensively) was of delight with a performance that had a purpose, an edge and an aggressive attitude.
They operated from a 4-2-3-1 formation and Rotherham opened similarly.
At half-time, with Noble replaced by Kearns who went wide left, it became 4-4-2 and, on this particular day, looked better balanced. By then, Cheltenham were happy with what they had and anything additional was a bonus.
I think Cheltenham have a dodgy keeper, particularly on crosses as we saw at New York, but he was rarely tested. The best was a rasping 25-yarder he turned over from Frecklington who put a shift in trying to make something happen.
The first goal, I reckoned beforehand, would prove decisive and whoever got it would go on and win.
It was a cracking volley from right winger McGlashan but the original error was a shedding of midfield possession which Robins’ pressure turned into the goal-making move. Not the only time the Millers got caught.
Pack had already brushed a post when, five minutes from half-time, he produced a similar, untracked, late run towards the area. The ball was smartly pulled back through the sort of understanding apparent throughout this Cheltenham side, and Pack skilfully guided his side-footer home from 18 yards.
Against a side unbeaten in their previous 16 home league games who seem at their most comfortable when the opposition have to go at them, Rotherham had a massive second-half task even to rescue it. They strove and threatened but Cheltenham always had the numbers around to foil them.
The defeat was completed with seven minutes left. Warrington, having denied Mohamed, then made a mess of the corner and Elliott hammered in the final nail.
Suddenly, after one point from nine, the Millers have slipped off the top-three pace as the race enters the final straight.
The leaders are galloping so the Millers must clear both the next two fences at NYS or they won’t be catching them.