Rotherham United verdict and reaction: Millers 1 Charlton 4
The ball flew over the bar, high into the sky, and with it went any hopes Rotherham United had of taking something from one of their most important games of the season.
Jonson Clarke-Harris’s full-on penalty treatment which had worked so spectacularly against Bristol City two months ago backfired here.
Instead of pulling back to 3-2 with 17 minutes and time added on remaining and all the momentum being with them, the Millers, lacking cohesion and painfully poor, remained two goals adrift and their chance of putting distance between themselves and the Championship drop zone was gone.
The Addicks even added a fourth several minutes after the regulation 90 were up to complete a cruel reality check. Yes, Rotherham are on an upward curve under Neil Redfearn and the business done in the January transfer window appears to have been very decent, but they are right in the thick of a survival battle.
Forget fancy notions of catching Fulham and other clubs above them. Just keep three teams below them. That’s all that matters this season.
The spot-kick was taken very, very hard. Just as defeat was by fans who had turned up expecting much better against a club that hadn’t won since November and had conceded 11 times in their last two away matches.
This was one of the few times this season that Rotherham had begun a game as favourites, and maybe the pressure, the unfamiliar weight of expectation, got to them.
Home players looked anxious, chasing every ball, almost trying too hard, as counter-attacking Charlton did against the Millers what the Millers have done against several higher-ranked teams this season: pressed relentlessly, put in a real shift and upset the odds.
Under new boss Jose Riga, who kept them in the second tier in his first spell in charge two seasons ago, the Addicks aren’t the rabble who caved in 5-0 and 6-0 at Huddersfield and Hull respectively.
“I thought we were poor, but they played well,” Rotherham manager Neil Redfearn said. “They waited for us and then broke. From the off, I didn’t think we applied ourselves.
“I don’t think it was a lack of effort, I just thought we lost our shape and were tenatative. We wanted to play backwards and square instead of forwards. It was unlike us and it was a poor performance.”
The Millers could have moved seven points clear of their opponent with a victory. Instead, they remain out of the bottom three only on goal difference. That’s how big Saturday’s result was.
If you’re looking for positives from this Rotherham display - a neat, second-half cameo from new signing Andrew Shinnie apart - you’re time-wasting almost as much as the visitors did when they led 2-1 after the break following first-half goals from Simon Makienok and Igor Vetokele against a smart home-debut strike from Millers right winger Chris Burke.
The pantomime started in the 46th minute and it was embarrassing, bringing howls of protest from already-frustrated supporters at AESSEAL New York Stadium.
When Makienok, his 6ft 8in, blond-haired frame sprawled on the sidelines, feigned injury, Zakarya Bergdich tended to him like a loved one at the scene of an accident.
The practice has become a blight on football and it needs to be stopped. Charlton received two yellow cards for their antics, one of them given to Matienok who went on to score the crucial third goal with a free header from a corner in the 69th minute.
Change the rules and kill it with reds.
Funny, but the Addicks stopped it when Makienok all too easily claimed his second of the afternoon, four minutes before substitute Clarke-Harris sent into British flight space the penalty he had won by taking on Jorge Teixera and beating him for power and pace.
Shinnie had spent the Saturday before out shopping while waiting for his New York move to go through and, despite his efforts and those of half-time sub Luciano Becchio, the Millers couldn’t buy a second-half goal.
At 2-1, Danny Ward tested Stephen Henderson with a curling effort while Becchio was agonisingly close to making the most of a Clarke-Harris nod-down and, after the missed spot-kick, Clarke-Harris shot narrowly wide before Becchio rose highest at a corner only for his header to bring a superb save from Henderson.
Ademola Lookman came on in time added on for the visitors and by the final whistle had latched on to Johann Berg Gudmundsson’s through ball to rub more salt into already very sore Millers wounds.
This was a bad day of misplaced passes and lost possession, a horrible afternoon of too much going wrong at the back as Charlton hit on the break and not enough going right in the final third as Rotherham failed to respond.
Redfearn has a healthy relationship with the truth and wasn’t hiding from anything he saw. Losing 4-1 at home to a team second bottom of the table is relegation form.
“I thought we looked a little bit tentative and nervous in the first half and I can’t understand why,” he said. “We have been playing well at home but I don’t think there is any game in this division which is a given for us.
“We have to be right at the top of our game. We have to be at the height of our powers. The difficult thing for me is understanding the drop in form. If we don’t play well, we don’t win.”
But the bigger picture is five wins and a draw from the 13 league matches since the manager’s reign really got going with the November 21 1-0 win at old club Leeds United. Survival form.
“We have given ourselves a chance of getting out of it,” Redfearn added. “But the bottom line is we are going to be scrapping until the end of the season, and that’s a given.
“You look at their goals and they’ve taken them well, but it hasn’t been too hard for them to get in and around our box. That has been very unlike us.”
Riga’s men had swept into a fourth-minute lead when they took advantage of a poor Shay Facey throw-in to break quickly and set up Makienok and, after Burke had calmed Millers’ nerves with a crisp 11th-minute finish from Danny Ward’s feed, they scored again on the stroke of half-time as Kirk Broadfoot failed to stop the right-wing charge of Berg Gudmundsson and Vetokele tapped in.
Facey’s inexperience was exposed at right-back and the youngster lost the confidence to look forward, Paul Green and Richie Smallwood - both of whom have excelled of late - had more to do in central midfield than they could cope with and the Broadfoot-Farrend Rawson centre-half axis struggled through its worse game together.
Joe Newell was ineffective on the left and Grant Ward was like that kid we all remember from our days on the school playground: full of talent but unwilling to give anyone else a go. Why is the easy pass sometimes the hardest one to play?
Just after 6pm, I walked to my car parked behind the away South Stand, head bowed by disappointment and the heavy sleet, pondering why so many players should suffer an off-day at the same time.
Then it hit me.
Clarke-Harris’s penalty coming into land.
Rotherham United (4-2-3-1): Camp 6; Facey 5, Broadfoot 5, Rawson 6, Mattock 6; Green 5(Becchio H-T, 6), Smallwood 5; Burke 6 (Clarke Harris 60, 6), G Ward 5, Newell 5 (Shinnie 60, 7); D Ward 6. Subs not used: Cairns, Wood, Richardson, Derbyshire.
Charlton Athletic (4-4-2): Henderson 7; Solly 5, Teixeira 5, Lennon 6, Fox 6; Gudmundsson 7, Cousins 6, Jackson 6, Bergdich 7; Vetokele 7 (Lookman 90+1), Makienok 8 (Ghoochannejhad 75). Subs not used: Pope, Johnson, Ba, Poyet, Harriott.
Goals: Makienok 4, 69, Vetokele 43, Lookman 90+3 (Charlton); Burke 11 (Rotherham).
Referee: Keith Stroud (Hampshire).
Attendance: 9,227 (739).