Rotherham United boss Steve Evans is no stranger to spot-kick controversy.
Many is the time the Millers manager has emerged from the dressing room after a match to berate officials for a penalty-area decision he feels went the wrong way.
But on Saturday, with a golden opportunity to point the finger at the referee, Evans chose not to.
Instead, he focused on his team and the shortcomings they had shown in a performance which had brought a home defeat against a side that had been below them in the table before kick-off and saw them drop in to the relegation places for the first time this season.
“Disgusted” is a strong word, but he used it.
There were big shouts for a penalty when Millers striker Alex Revell went down in the penalty area with no Birmingham player appearing to touch the ball, and Evans was out of his seat in the dug-out bellowing for the decision.
Seconds later, Rotherham were a goal down as Birmingham broke and Clayton Donaldson fired home at the second attempt after an initial save from Adam Collin.
“We don’t look at the referee, we don’t look at that decision, we look at ourselves,” he said.
“And when it’s as disjointed as that ... you know, we’ve got a central defensive pairing that have been absolutely a rock in what we’ve achieved in the last couple of years. It looked today like neither of them had ever played at football.
“That probably summarised a lot of other performances as well which weren’t good enough.
“We’ve got very honest staff and we’ve just sat and had a five-minute debrief and they’re shaking their heads at some individuals. And there are some individuals there who will be disgusted by their performance because they’re normally very good for us.
“If that’s our performance level, it’s not going to be good enough for this league, that’s for sure.”
For virtually all of Evans’ two successive promotion campaigns his team have been more than the sum of their parts, driven on by collective will and desire, bonded by their relentless effort and refusal to lie down.
Against a Birmingham side rejuvenated by new manager Gary Rowett, they were unrecognisable from the side which beat Blackburn, swept away Leeds in the second half of the Yorkshire derby and picked apart one of the division’s best sides, Watford, for an hour.
It was a damaging defeat in a division of fine margins. Five matches without a win, four without a goal and a place in the bottom three make for tough reading.
But victory would have put them nearer midtable than the drop zone. And it’s not that long ago that the same players went five games unbeaten and everyone was saying how well they’d taken to life in the second tier.
“They break away and Donaldson scores a goal, then we have an absolute gilt-edged chance for Paul Green and he puts it nearer the corner flag than the net,” Evans said.
“I think if it goes 1-1 then, we go on and win the game. We’d just got ourselves back in the game in terms of periods of play. But there are no excuses today. There’s no point me trying to make any. We have to take it, unfortunately, and hurt overnight and hurt for a couple of days.
“Everyone outside the four walls will smash us up. But we know that. We’ll do what we did in Leagues One and Two when we lost to the Bristols and Barnets and got beat by six at Port Vale. We regrouped and showed a lot of character.”
One thing’s for certain, next Saturday’s home match with bottom club Blackpool takes on extra significance.
The visitors, now unbeaten in four under Rowett, had much the better of the first half, hitting the workwork through Andrew Shinnie and a wonderferful long-range effort from former Sheffield United man David Cotterill.
Collin, in his first game since signing a new contract, had to save smartly from a Stephen Gleeson free-kick, Donaldson and Cotterill, while for the Millers Jonson Clarke-Harris chose to cross instead of shoot and skidded a long-range effort wide, while Paul Taylor shot tamely at Darren Randolph.
Taylor didn’t make the second half, giving way to new loan signing Emmanuel Ledesma from Middlesbrough. The Argentine winger trains with his new teammates for the first time today, so his impact will be judged in games to come.
The home side picked up the pace after the interval, but in Donaldson the Blues, backed by magnificently vocal away support, had a striker whose pace troubled the Millers backline all afternoon.
He was able to get on the ball and bring others into play while Evans’ side went route one to Revell but failed to get enough men round the big man to support him.
Donaldson’s moment came in the 62nd minute as he did well to control Collin’s parry while he was grounded and regain his feet to thump the ball home.
Rotherham’s moment came 13 minutes later, when Jordan Bowery headed back to fellow subsitute Green inside the penalty area.
The midfield man had been put on the bench when he reported for duty a little under the weather, and his effort, pulled wide of the keeper’s right-hand post with the goal gaping, was similar to how he was feeling: sickly.
Evans said: “He wasn’t feeling 100 per cent when he arrived at the stadium or Paul would have played. We tried to introduce him to freshen us up in place of Frecks (Lee Frecklington) who had given us everything.
“What do you do? We’ll go back on the training ground tomorrow, we’ll work hard and if people think we’re going to give up what we fought for last season ... there’s not a chance of this. We know if we win today you go up towards 14th or 15th in the table, so it’s still all very tight, and we’ll get ready for next week.”
The loan transfer window closes on Thursday and Evans is hoping to do business before then.
“We need (to bring in) two or three,” he said. I had a very productive meeting with the chairman during the week and we’re trying to do that.
“If you look at the team today, seven or eight of them were with us in League Two and League One. Some are stepping up admirably and some will step up but sometimes you need to take them out for some games and if you’re putting players in it needs to be quality.
“We need a couple more. A couple who need to get games may go out as well. If they come in with the same quality as the young lad who’s come in from Middlesbrough, then we’ll be fine. Our chief executive is telling me we’re reasonably close, but it’s a question of whether we can get them over the line.”
For weeks, Millers fans had been pointing at Saturday’s clash and the following one with Blackpool as games where points could be taken. Birmingham, so much improved from the rabble which capitulated 8-0 at home to Bournemouth only last month when Lee Clark was in charge, spoiled the first part of that.
But Blackpool - now managed by that man, Clark, in one of those little ironies that football sometimes throws up, - remain rock bottom, well adrift, with just one win all season
Two big games have just boiled down to one huge one.
Manager’s view - Steve Evans: “I’ve always maintained if any clubs lacks that passion, desire and hunger you don’t win the football match. It’s as simple as that. Because you don’t get the chance to make the best of your ability. I’ll defend the backline when they play as they should do. I thought they were great at Hillsborough. I thought they were disgusting today. They were terrible. They weren’t terrible on their own. It was a disjointed team performance. You don’t get too many of them from us.”
Manager’s view - Gary Rowett: “I think it was the most complete performance that we’ve had. I thought we played with really good control. It was important that when we needed to we picked good opportunities to get into those little spaces.”
Hero: Difficult to find one on a day of such disappointment. Goalkeeper Adam Collin pulled off some decent saves and was unlucky to see his stopfrom Clayton Donaldson land right back at the striker’s feet for the Blues man to score at the second attempt.
Key moment: Paul Green’s 75th-minute miss. This wasn’t a good Rotherham performance by any means but had Green scored when he should have done the Millers would have been on the front foot and Birmingham could easily have panicked. At 1-1, you’d have fancied the home side.
Viewpoint: The Millers lack some of the zest they showed from August through to the end of October. No such thing as six-pointers in November, but next Saturday’s home match with struggling Blackpool is a big chance to ease the tension.
Referee watch: Darren Bond (Lancashire). Another member of the growing band of officials who seem to think they’re not allowed to award fouls to Alex Revell. The striker was pulled, impeded and clattered and was given nothing.
Rotherham United: Rotherham United: Collin 8, Richardson 6, Morgan 6, Arnason 5, Skarz 5, Taylor 5 (Ledesma H-T, 6), Frecklington 5 (Green 67, 5), Smallwood 6, Pringle 6, Revell 6, Clarke-Harris 6 (Bowery 71). Subs not used: Thompson, Broadfoot, Milsom, Derbyshire.
Birmingham City: Randolph 6, Grounds 7, Robinson 7, Gleeson 6, Donaldson 8, Cotterill 7, Shinnie 7 (Reilly 88), Davis 6, Morrison 7, Caddis 7, Gray 6 (Novak 78). Subs not used: Doyle, Eardley, Edgar, Shea, Arthur.
Attendance: 10,937 (2,589).