IT’S hard not to get the idea Rotherham United seem to be the prize scalp of League Two.
Good budget; quality players; promotion favourite; one of the division’s ‘big’ clubs and a controversial manager seemingly not popular with everyone, certainly not fans of many opposing clubs.
You can well imagine when the Millers roll into town - or the opposition roll up in Rotherham - opponents might have a little extra edge to try to bring them down.
Perhaps Burton, the division’s surprise package, exemplified that, although their success may have gone a bit deeper. The lesson for the Millers - one already painfully learned - is to at least avoid defeat when facing those up there with them.
Burton knew where they stood. A point ahead but from three games more. They certainly couldn’t afford to lose.
Perhaps Steve Evans would have taken a point beforehand if you’d offered it. Some managers might have set up aiming for a draw.
But Evans sends his teams out looking to win and they were positive from the start.
Moving forward with confidence, they had tentative, nervy, Burton on the back foot for the first 20 minutes.
Hit by injuries (as well as non-availability of his first-choice central defenders) Burton boss Gary Rowett said he’d been forced to send out some players not fully fit, including two-goal Billy Kee who had a swollen ankle on which he could hardly walk two days earlier.
In a strange way, seemingly up against it - ie, players patched up, under-strength side, facing good
opposition - almost seems to suit the English footballer’s psyche. Give ’em a cause to fight for etc.
Perhaps Rotherham carrying the fight to them, making the running, suited them. They had a strong mentality, were defiant and the dual role of Bell and Weir in front of the back four was a key factor in this game.
Despite the Millers’ possession and go-forward attitude, Evans reckoned the first-half display lacked purpose and that they tended to overplay. It was a telling comment because, at times, the Millers were guilty of it - and have been on other occasions too.
Burton were often much less precise and they knocked it forward and messed things up badly. But they also had an abilityto break sharply, usually through the pacy, tricky Maghoma.
They had found their feet and some momentum by the time they got that oh-so-crucial first goal.
It was no surprise the chunky Kee got it in the typical manner he did; back to a defender, rolling away from him and getting his right foot shot away. It was probably a surprise Arnason was the defender to get ‘done’. You’d have backed the international to have managed to block him, awkward though Kee is in that situation.
Then came the David Noble dismissal right on half-time. The first booking, no argument. The second one I thought was a rash decision and a poor one. As it inevitably meant a red, couldn’t ref Eddie Ilderton have used some common sense? Whatever happened to a final warning?
Wouldn’t that have been more sensible refereeing? While competitive, there had been few fouls and it was only Noble’s second offence?
One did note similar offences, including by Rotherham players, going unpunished. Judged by Noble’s second offence, Ilderton should have been flashing yellow again.
At half-time, Lee Frecklington and Dan Kearns replaced Ben Pringle and Jordan Slew. Kearns certainly made inroads as Rotherham’s 10 men chased the game - and to their credit they hardly looked a man short even though two down for most of the half.
Had Liam Ridehalgh finished off excellent work from Daniel Nardiello, the left-back’s shot from a close range opening striking the near post, then it would have been level six minutes after the break and the dynamics of the game would have changed.
But, minutes later, Kee did it again when he turned away from Arnason a second time. Evans protested strongly afterwards about a clear handball by Kee, something, I confess, I didn’t see at the time.
On watching the goal highlights again, yes, it did strike his hand and it moved the ball away, enabling him to rifle a shot beyond Warrington. Refs should be spotting something like that.
The danger now was that, as Rotherham pressed, they’d get caught on the break and Symes fluffed a good opportunity.
Nardiello’s brilliant finish was ruled out, I reckon correctly as he appeared to move from an offside position back towards the ball.
But it would have been nice, and a bit of informative communication, had ref or linesman given a signal to indicate why it wasn’t given.
The angry Millers hordes behind that goal would probably only see Nardiello scoring from an ‘onside’ position and reckon the linesman got it wrong.
Rotherham’s spirit didn’t wane and Johnny Mullins had a header cleared from under the bar while Michael O’Connor brought a fine save from Tomlinson.
O’Connor’s next act was challenging the grounded Maghoma. It didn’t look malicious and you might not even deem it rash. But the ref reckoned it reckless and flourished red.
He gave a penalty as well but Andy Warrington prevented further misery by saving Symes’ spot-kick although the first away defeat since the Dagenham debacle in November was sealed.
Afterwards came the astonishing accusation from Steve Evans alleging that referee Ilderton had been “obnoxious, rude and embarrassing” to him and his staff as they prepared to return for the second half and that he’d be reporting him to the FA over it.
It will certainly have to go through the disciplinary channels.
With his staff sure to confirm the manager’s version and linesmen generally inclined to nod and agree with their ‘boss’, the referee, even if he said tomorrow was Friday, then it is an interesting one for the FA to sort out.
Football, and not least referees, will watch this one with interest.