MATCH REPORT: Exeter 0 Rotherham United 1

Match action: Ian Sharps, hidden from view, scores
Match action: Ian Sharps, hidden from view, scores
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NO doubt all football club followers would like their team playing lovely, silky, passing football, weaving pretty patterns and, most important of all, winning matches as well.

But however you dream or aspire to emulate the best, I think many footballers in this country love a win like this one.

I’d been wondering if Rotherham were capable - amidst the gung-ho attacking, the bouts of iffy defending and the Southend-style, towel-chucking-in - of digging in and, therefore, digging out a victory. Preferably, a gritty 1-0 away win.

Well, they did just that in the final 45 minutes here and, frankly, many often prefer a hard-fought win like this, in awful conditions, where you defy the opposition and emerge muddy, wet through but unbowed.

At the end, the clenched-fist salute has real meaning and feeling. Take somebody to the cleaners for 3-0 and it’s sorted with 20 minutes left and it’s satisfaction but not quite the same euphoria at the final whistle.

It wasn’t total defiance, however. Far from it. Having started upbeat and bright, the first-half Rotherham were good and, at times, very slick.

Clubs spend ages watering a pitch pre-match to get a ‘zippy’ top. The Devon skies did that here and the fairly new pitch stood up brilliantly even though it rained throughout, teeming down later on.

Rotherham did ‘zip’ it around early on and, honestly, there was one excellent, quick-passing move which had it involved Messrs Xavi, Iniesta and Messi could hardly have looked any slicker. Except this is League Two so when Pringle popped Revell clean through at the business end he couldn’t do the necessary, although Krysiak did very well to divert the shot with his knee.

Worried Exeter, off the back of an excellent win at leaders Gillingham, emerged to test Warrington. He saved from Cureton on the angle, made a very sharp, low save from the 37-year-old, 15-goal striker’s close-range header and got the merest touch on Gow’s wicked 25 yarder which hit the bar.

When Mullins saw his header from a corner brilliantly pushed over by Krysiak, it seemed Rotherham had been denied a half-time lead. But from the resulting corner on the other side, the right, Pringle curved it in and Sharps got in at the near post for his header.

In possession in the first half, Rotherham played well. In the second half, out of possession, they did very well.

It might be suggested they needed to because they didn’t match their first-half attacking.

But then Exeter had to

push on and, I admit, I was interested to see if Rotherham could dig out a win on a horrible day.

They did that. Mullins returned in typical fashion, although once bailed out by Sharps who was a perpetual barrier and made several vital deflections and interventions.

It was the sort of day and situation that suited Taylor who would never fit the description ‘silky’. But he proved ideal here, a lot of important helping out with unspectacular, but important, contributions. O’Connor contributed too. New left-back Ridehalgh was steady.

Late on, decisions seemed to go against the Millers - refs just might get fed up with every decision being vociferously questioned on

the touchline - but I thought the red card for young Rose, who made an honest tackle in very slidy conditions, was really harsh, although the TV replay suggested he may have left the ground as he challenged.

Final word from snappily-dressed Exeter boss Paul Tisdale to Millers manager Steve Evans: “Your team was excellent today, you should be proud of them.”

Secrets of the hotel-room showdown

SO, what did happen in that hotel bedroom between Steve Evans and Johnny Mullins on Friday night?

The heart-to-heart (hotel bedrooms have had a few of those) would no doubt have told a few home truths and had admissions of getting things wrong. Some owning up, some clearing of air.

It ended - apparently - all lovey-dovey. But don’t jump to the wrong conclusion here. There’s no untoward scandal.

Mind you, you can find plenty of Millers fans who reckon it’s a scandal that the popular ‘Mulls’ hasn’t been involved and has been doing his defending elsewhere.

Of course, players are often better when they aren’t around.

No-one doubts the Mullins qualities but it is hard to say he should have played ahead of Craig Morgan (his replacement) who has probably been Rotherham’s most consistent player since his debut on September 8. And though Ian Sharps has had his difficulties at times, it was unlikely the skipper would be left out.

Of course, it would have been ideal to have had Mullins on the bench. But he’s much better than idling away his Saturday afternoons waiting for someone to get injured. He’s worth a game somewhere. And the player wanted to play first-team football.

It did appear though, if you heard all the whispers, that Mullins wasn’t going to figure in Evans’ plans going forward.

Managers are usually reluctant to confirm something like that. Might need him one day.

Which brings us to last Monday. And here’s where Evans admits he got it wrong over Mullins. And, like all us followers picking a winning team at five o’clock, managers can have the benefit of hindsight too.

Perhaps he admitted as much as they sat on the bed in that hotel bedroom on Friday. He certainly admitted it on Saturday.

After Craig Morgan’s injury, Evans was left with one genuine central defender for the Wycombe game last Tuesday. The simple solution was recalling Mullins from his loan at Oxford. Mind you, leave it at that and he’d have had no proper cover should Sharps or Mullins then be missing at any stage up to January. Dangerous!

So, Evans decided to try and sign a Championship defender (no doubt one he rated better than Mullins because you surely wouldn’t sign someone inferior to him) the day before the Wycombe game. Mullins must have felt the snub.

When the potential signing then gets injured in Monday training, Evans compounds the snub by not calling Mullins back for Tuesday’s game. He keeps midfielder Jason Taylor in centre defence and he’s at fault for one of the goals and Rotherham lose.

Next day, with hardly any other choice, the jilted Mullins gets the call. Twenty four hours too late - and that’s Evans now telling us that, not just hindsight!

Suddenly from being marginalised, Mullins becomes a vital cog in the defence machinery to roll out at Exeter.

But, first, the hotel bedroom in Devon.

Evans admits he got some things wrong. Like not bringing him back on Monday. Perhaps he acknowledged he could have handled the whole affair better, dealt with the player better.

Mullins wasn’t in there to hold his tongue and nod. I think we can imagine that he most likely let Evans know he wasn’t happy over various aspects of his dealings. He had it out with the manager, one can meaningfully guess.

They both had their say.

It was, the manager claimed “man to man” and “lovey-dovey” at the end. Mullins’ version of what took place is now awaited. No doubt he’d love to avail us all of his feelings. but the club turned down media requests to speak to him. Gagged.

Did they really kiss and make up? What goes off behind closed doors, and certainly in hotel bedrooms, intrigues us all.