Rotherham United 0 Nottingham Forest 0 match verdict: No goals but plenty of hope for Steve Evans’ Millers

Emmanuel Ledesma
Emmanuel Ledesma
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Much of the talk beforehand had been about the weather. It was going to be the coldest weekend of the year, a deep frost was expected Saturday morning and the overnight covers were on the pitch for the first time this season.

There was also a continuing dry spell on Saturday afternoon. But this had nothing to do with climatic conditions at New York Stadium.

And the outlook looked bright. But no connection to the winter sun which shone down on the Millers’ home before giving way to dark winter skies and floodlights by half-time.

All Rotherham need to truly kick-start their bold new dawn under boss Steve Evans is a goal.

They outplayed illustrious opponents with genuine promotion aspirations in Nottingham Forest, and some of the sharp, incisive, one-touch passing which at times cut deep into the Forest rearguard was a pleasure to behold.

But a record of one goal in the last seven games and no wins in nine does nothing to warm the spirits when the mercury is close to freezing point.

“We’d all love a goalscorer but in this league they come at a real premium,” said Evans afterwards.

“If you want to pay £20,000 or £25,000 a week then you’ll get a goalscorer. We’re not that club so we’re going to have to go and find one that we believe can do it.

“I thought our performance was absolutely super. If you look at the names on the sheet of paper that Stuart (Forest boss Pearce) can call upon you’d be frightened of playing them, but we said we were going to play, to get it down and pass it.

“I’ve just said to the group, we’ll continue to play like that and we’ll pass and we’ll move it and we have to believe that whoever is above us who governs this planet is not allowing us to score a goal because we’re getting everything going against us. We have to work through that.”

To turn the stats on their head, it’s now three matches for the Millers unbeaten, coinciding with the arrival of the new loan quartet, with just one goal conceded - and that would have been a clean sheet against Blackpool but for goalkeeper Adam Collin’s once-in-a-career air-shot.

It’s the style of their performances rather than the result of them at the moment which is giving so much cause for hope. The players, new and old, have bought into Evans’ fresh pass-and-move philosophy, and the fans like what they see.

Saturday, after a slow start when neither team threatened a great deal, was a million miles from the torpid, route-one stuff in the home defeat against Birmingham City last month which convinced Evans it was time for change.

“This is a team of babes. There are no 33/34-year-olds who have come in on loan. This is a team of youngsters who we work hard on the training ground and ask them to pass it and move it and keep it,” he said.

“You know what, there were some mistakes. They gave it away in poor areas, but you’re going to have to live with that because they can’t have 100-degree accuracy. But, at pace, some of our one- and two-touch passing was quite stunning.”

After Tom Lawrence had shot wastefully wide from a good position and Dexter Blackstock had directed an inviting Michail Antonio far-post cross just wide, the game burst into life late in the first half.

In the 41st minute, after intricate interplay of Premier League quality, Lawrence fed Emmanuel Ledesma and the Argentine let fly in front of the away end from close to 30 yards and thumped the crossbar. I’m not saying he hit it hard but I drove past NYS on the way to work this morning and I could swear the bar was still shaking.

It lifted the home crowd, and a minute later the decibel level rose again as left-back Reece James, having his best game in a Rotherham shirt so far, broke down the left, and rolled a lovely pass into Lawrence whose first-time effort was a whisker wide.

Game on.

Again deploying a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Richard Smallwood and Paul Green such an effective shield for the defence, the Millers enjoyed midfield dominance and pushed back Forest in a half-hour spell after the break which should have brought that much-craved goal.

Forest wobbled like the South Stand crossbar yet always had the searing pace and strength of former Sheffield Wednesday flyer Antonio as an attacking outlet.

Henri Lansbury headed over for Forest and Dexter Blackstock had a headed goal ruled out for an infringement in the build-up, but the chances mounted for the Millers.

Green’s feet turned flat right in front of an empty net as Alex Revell’s parried shot fell to him but his one-glaring-miss-every-game blushes were spared this time by an offside flag, and Lansbury produced a stunning goal-saving block to deny another Ledesma pile-driver.

Lawrence was just inches away from breaking clear when Ledesma robbed Michael Mancienne and chipped the ball through and, on the hour mark, Ben Pringle missed the game’s best opportunity, half-volleying over from barely six yards after a sharp link-up down the right from Ledesma and Lawrence had carved Forest open.

Lawrence curled a decent effort over, Ledesma was just wide with yet another well-hit effort and Forest keeper Karl Darlow just managed to deny James with his legs as the young left-back’s low drive deflected away from him.

“We’re three or four points away from being up near midtable. Everyone who has watched us at Cardiff last week and watched us today know this is a Rotherham United side which is playing exceptionally well,” Evans said.

“I’d settle next week for playing poorly and winning 1-0 because we know we have to win games. But it’s really reassuring when you see these boys pass and move it in training and then take it on to a stage like today.

“It was a fantastic atmosphere. Credit to not only the Millers support but the Nottingham Forest support. I know they support a huge club but they were brilliant today. What an atmosphere to play a football match in.”

All Evans wants from Santa this year is a goal or two, and the need for a proven scorer opens up the tantalising prospect of Luciano Becchio returning to the Millers’ fold this week.

The Norwich City loan striker returns to full training today with his parent club after recovering from the fractured heel he sustained just as he was starting to show full form and fitness for Rotherham, and he remains a Millers player.

“I’ll make the decision,” said Evans. “He’s contracted here until, I think, the first or second week in January. We’ll make the decision, but I obviously have to take the guidance and the expertise of the medical staff at Norwich City into account, and it would only be right then that my medical team would guide me through it.

“If Luciano, who I have been speaking to regularly, is fit to contribute then he’ll be coming back. We’d love to see him back. But it doesn’t mean he’s the only striker Rotherham United have their eyes on at the minute.”

Rotherham remain in 21st place but are now three points clear of the drop zone and in optimistic mood. Next up are three teams aaround them in the table: Wigan away next Saturday, Huddersfield at home on Boxing Day, then Blackpool away to see out 2014.

These are key games for the new-look Millers who will be targeting points after handling the threat of big-spending Forest.

“I don’t remember Adam Collin having anything to do apart from basic catches and a few set-plays that they’ve worked in,” Evans said.

“I don’t remember coming away and thinking I’ve seen Britt (Forest striker Assombalonga) miss a chance.

“I’ll look at the DVD, as I always do, and review it, but we were solid, we had a good shape. We passed it and we moved it around.

“We’re far, far away from where we need to be and want to be, but in the two weeks we’ve been working on this shape and this style it’s been vastly encouraging.

“I think our supporters have loved that today. They’ve not seen a Rotherham United team pass and move it like that., but they’re going to see more of it.

“Probably Stuart will drive home tonight and think he’s sat next to Robin Hood They’ve stolen a point, haven’t they?”

Assombalonga, for the record, did have one chance, stabbing wide at the back post 10 minutes from time.

So assured were the Rotherham centre-half duo of Craig Morgan and Kari Aranason that that was about all you saw of the striker once coveted by Evans and acquired by Forest for a reported £5.5 million, with substantial potential add-ons.

And I thought Robin Hood was supposed to rob the rich, not the other way round.

Rotherham United: Collin 7, Wootton 7, Morgan 8, Arnason 8, James 7, Smallwood 8, Green 8, Ledesma (Bowery 86) 8, Lawrence 7, Pringle (Taylor 82) 6, Revell 6. Subs not used: Thompson, Skarz, Newton, Brandy, Clarke-Harris.

Nottingham Forest: Darlow 7, Lichaj 7, Mancienne 8, Wilson 8, Fox 7, Paterson 5, Lansbury 5, Tesche 6, Antonio 8, Assombalonga 5, Blackstock (Ince 76) 5. Subs not used: De Vries, Fryatt, Lascelles, Hunt, Burke, Osborn.

Manager’s view: Steve Evans: “Defending is made a little easier when you’ve got boys in front of the back four who can keep the ball a little bit, who can pass it around and take the sting out of the game when they have to. We must have gone left to right and right to left so many times it was quite frightening. We had penetration all over the pitch. We’ll continue to work on it.”

Manager’s view: Steve Wigley (Forest No 2): “It was a tight game and probably a fair result in the end. We were disappointed to have Dexter’s goal wiped out, but we need to have more quality, creativity and endeavour around the final third. We defended well and the only way we were going to concede a goal was from 25 or 30 yards.”

Hero: Emmanuel Ledesma. Great close control and a constant desire to put himself or the ball into the right danger areas. You can see a spectacular goal coming soon as well as he possesses a fearsome shot. He’s been a big signing.

Key moment: Ben Pringle’s 59th-minute miss. The Millers were right in the middle of their most dominant spell, the crowd were urging them on and this could have been the goal to turn the game.

Viewpoint: Strange to say it after nine matches now without a win, but Rotherham’s new style is giving everyone connected with the club genuine reason to hope. The chances are there. It just needs one to to be taken.

Ref watch: Richard Clark (Northumberland). Managed to anger both sides and, bizarrely, gave a corner in the dying seconds to Forest, let everyone line up for it and then blew for time.

Attendance: 11,228 (2,608).