Match report: MK Dons 3 Rotherham United 2

A grounded Michael O'Connor is sent off by referee Robert Madley.
A grounded Michael O'Connor is sent off by referee Robert Madley.
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So, the Millers are getting a clearer idea by the game what they are up against in League One. All sorts of things, actually, and not all within their control.

But it all indicates how difficult it will be if they want to make a prolonged impact and not just get off to a pretty decent start.

They’ll be competitive, of that there’s no doubt. Certainly nothing wrong with them on that score, and you only had to judge them on the excellent effort with 10 men - and not too many sides, ever, have come from two down to get level when a man short.

A club that itself is building came up here against one that - however much you may detest the way they came about - has been doing so for ten years and inculcating a certain football philosophy for the last few years. And they still haven’t got out of League One!

With growing support in this wealthy part of middle (to upper) England and a splendid stadium now complete, they should be a constant force at this level. But there is another important issue which needs factoring into the onfield progress a side can make in a season - the quality of their loan players.

So often sides have gained promotion aided by the impact of players on loan and it could so easily come down to that again. Rotherham, on the wrong end of outstanding skill from a young loan star the previous week (Alex Pritchard at Swindon via Spurs, not to mention a few others) were undone by another one here.

Patrick Bamford, 20-year-old starlet striker on loan from Chelsea and the brilliant match-winner here, now has 12 goals for MK Dons. It’s a remarkable tally so early in the season and does make a massive difference.

Not just the goals either. It can be the finishing quality. His superb 87th-minute winner which broke Millers hearts was a top-drawer finish, an “out-of-nothing” moment. Not really a chance and little more than a loose ball from which he quick-wittedly sensed an opportunity to swoop and strike for goal. Top corner here we come!

It typified, and so did his performance (and a bit like Pritchard the previous week), the sort of confidence and quality there is in many of these youngsters brought up at top Premier League clubs.

Kari Arnason, who knows a bit about strikers from his time playing at the back for Iceland, mentioned afterwards Bamford’s movement and how he was always on the shoulder of the last defender.

Of course, Rotherham can moan about various things and point to the chances they failed to put away.

Well, by my rough reckoning, the one-v-one (player v keeper) chances were three for each side. The much-vaunted Bamford couldn’t stick away two of their three (Scott Shearer denying him both times) while Rotherham’s three all fell to Alex Revell.

Players miss one-v-ones all the time at all levels (Bamford’s first miss was a ‘sitter’). No-one scores every time. But what did for Revell here was the third one right at the end of the first half, just moments after MK Dons had gone in front, with Shaun Williams penalty resulting in Michael O’Connor being sent off.

Not one Millers fan doubts Revell’s contribution to the team cause and the work he puts in, week in, week out. But when a centre forward, in on goal with only the keeper ahead, looks not to try to score but to pass the ball, then you have to reckon his confidence has been shot - eroded completely by the failures before.

He’d got through in the fifth minute and looked sure to go round the outcoming keeper but couldn’t manage it and also saw the keeper deny him after O’Connor had robbed Darren Potter who was booked and might have seen red for denying O’Connor a goalscoring opportunity had not the ref (correctly) played the advantage as Revell gained possession.

When, minutes from half-time, Craig Morgan flicked on Arnason’s long throw, Revell fired a chance high over. It looked scoreable and may have been the moment his confidence then flew off. When he then passed up his final chance, the half-time decision to replace him was inevitable as well as protective. Millers fans, rather than pillory him, will sympathise with the big striker and their wholehearted support for him when he next appears will be important.

He won’t keep on missing but should he ever stop looking to get into places to get those chances, there’s then a big problem.

Rotherham began 4-5-1 but an early switch saw Kieran Agard go up alongside Revell and they certainly played their attacking part in a rousing half.

Bamford’s inventive ‘lift-over’ pass led to the penalty in stoppage time. Tom Eaves went on and made an impression but when Shearer didn’t hold a low centre to give Ben Reeves a tap-in on 65 minutes it looked all over.

It could have gone badly awry but the Millers showed great heart and spirit. Their 1,406 fans were in dreamland in a two-minute spell when Lee Frecklington headed in Morgan’s centre and then Tom Flanagan couldn’t deal with Shearer’s clearance and headed over his own keeper.

Remarkably the 10 men strove for a winner and Morgan headed over following a free-kick.

The home side threw on two extra strikers and went for it yet the defiant Millers would have held on but for a special finish they couldn’t do anything about.