Rotherham United match verdict and reaction: Millers 1 Wolves 2
As fans left New York Stadium in the December dark, there, in a corner of the car-park not far from the club shop, was a large Christmas tree, its lights breaking the blackness of the winter evening.
There were warm, bright colours wrapped round the bottom, climbing well above halfway, yet they ran out too soon, leaving little to enjoy up top.
And that, folks, with the festive season pretty much upon us, is your Yuletide metaphor for Rotherham United’s performance against Wolves.
Perhaps, after two straight wins, too much was expected of the Millers who are showing distinct signs of being able to survive in the Championship under Neil Redfearn but remain for now, after all, in the bottom three.
After conceding at a damaging time, a minute before the interval, to trail 2-1, Redfearn’s men pressed and attacked for much of the second half but lacked the quality in the final third that the visitors displayed.
Jonson Clarke-Harris, the boy in a man’s body being asked to do an experienced campaigner’s job up front, the hot prospect who had terrorised Bristol City last week as he scored twice, didn’t look the same player.
“Clarke-Harris won us the game last week but was a shadow of that today,” Redfearm said. “But he’s a young guy so he’s learning the job.
“He is raw, young and does not know the game at times. He’s learning the job and we are asking him to be the main man. At times he looks lost.”
The Millers matched a good, physical Wolves side who ought to be challenging for the play-offs for long periods of the game and there was no lack of effort.
But, in a swirling wind, there were near-misses rather than clear-cut chances in that goalless second period as Wolves pulled nine outfield players behind the ball and Rotherham couldn’t find a way through.
“There wasn’t a shot on target from either side in the second half,” said Kenny Jackett, that canny football man in charge of the West Midlands giants and an old Watford teammate of Redfearn’s. “That suited us more than it did them.”
Between minutes 57 and 88, Grant Ward skied a clear opportunity from Harry Toffolo’s cut-back, Lee Frecklington’s cross somehow eluded Richie Smallwood’s head, skipper Freck bent a shot wide and twice Clarke-Harris failed to connect with terrific balls in from Grant Ward.
“We had one or two half-chances with things flashing across the goal,” Redfearn said. “I remember one when Grant broke down the line and put the ball in and Clarke-Harris should have scored. If he had thrown himself on the end of it, it’s a goal with it being that close in.”
A Christmas tree never looks quite right if the star at the top has slipped a little.
The Millers, after consecutive clean sheets, conceded early, Toffolo falling asleep at the back post in the fifth minute to allow James Henry to nip in unchallenged and direct a free header into the corner of the net.
Right winger Henry gave the loan youngster a difficult afternoon, and Wolves were dangerous on both flanks, with Jordan Graham’s trickery also causing problems for a defence in which Kirk Broadfoot excelled for the third time in a row.
Rotherham lost striker Danny Ward to injury after just 12 minutes and Lee Camp kept them alive with a stunning double save soon after, parrying Henry’s effort and then, while grounded, clearing with his feet as the ball hung invitingly in mid air waiting to be finished off.
But the Millers worked their way into the game and, seconds after Frecklngton had headed over, Joe Newell clipped the ball home in the 18th minute with the aid of a post after Clarke-Harris’s shot had been blocked and Toffolo’s follow-up attempt had fallen kindly for the left midfielder.
Proceedings turned in the 44th minute when the home side offered up their second gift of the day, bad marking at a vicious, outswinging Graham corner ending with two Wolves players at the far post and Danny Batth’s head doing the honours.
“The goals were poor from our point of view, but when Wolves went forward they looked dangerous,” Redfearn said.
“We looked short of that up front today.
“They wobbled a bit after we equalised, but the marking was poor for their second goal, although we had someone blocked off.
“I thought we were the better side, to be honest. If you look at the 90 minutes probably the weight of possession and territory was ours, particularly in the second half, but the difference was quality.”
“The disappointing thing is that thought we did enough to warrant getting something out of the game.
“A point would have been a good one. We have to keep going, keep battling and keep fighting.”
Luke Hyam came on for Newell and immediately showed he could be the man to add some seasonal sparkle.
The Ipswich Town midfield man, on loan until January, was involved in nearly every good thing Rotherham did in the second half with his tight control, ability to thread a clever pass and willingness to work out of possession.
He adds legs and class to the side and Redfearn - who always says you pick a system to suit the players, not the other way round - will surely find a way to include 24-year-old in his starting line-up sooner rather than later.
Redfearn has also talked about the process of turning his new club into a top-half second-tier outfit being “two steps forwards, one step back”.
Saturday was a frustrating case in point, but six points from three matches is a return any Miller would have happily taken before those games.
And, remember, Rotherham went into battle without several key figures. Leon Best, sent of on his debut a fortnight ago, and Stephen Kelly, injured in his second game last week, were missing, as was Kelly’s likely replacement, Farrend Rawson, while first-choice left-back Joe Mattock was fit enough only for the bench.
The departure of Danny Ward so soon hardly helped the cause either.
“The idea of bringing in Leon is so we have got a man up there to play with the strikers,” Redfearn said. “We looked like we were short of a man up there today.
“We’ve brought in Leon and Kelly and neither of them have been available.”
What a difference their experience and calibre could make to the Millers’ mission to escape the drop zone.
Kelly, 32, top-flight defensive know-how; Best, 29, the nous to score goals in the Premier League; Redfearn, the boss who engineered their permanent signings as free agents outside of the transfer window.
Otherwise known as the three wise men.
Rotherham United (4-4-2): Camp 8; Buxton 7, Broadfoot 8, Collins 6, Toffolo 5; G Ward 7(Barker 77), Frecklington 7, Smallwood 7, Newell 6 (Hyam 57, 8); Clarke-Harris 5, D Ward (Derbyshire 12, 5). Subs not used: Collin, Richardson, Mattock, Yates.
Wolves (4-1-4-1): Ikeme 6; Iorfa 7, Batth 7, Ebanks-Landell 8, Golbourne 6; Price 7; Henry 8, McDonald 7 (Coady 86), Edwards 6, Graham 8 (Byrne 90+1); Le Fondre 5 (Afobe 76). Subs not used: McCarey, Doherty, Wallace, Holt.
Goals: Newell 18 (Rotherham); Henry 5, Batth 44 (Wolves).
Referee: Darren Deadman (Cambridgeshire).
Attendance: 9,759 (1,752).