Rotherham United: Bravery, baubles and David Ball ... Blackpool 1 Millers 2

Two-goal David Ball
Two-goal David Ball
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They were booed off at the break. They were cheered by 1,000 ecstatic away fans throwing an early Christmas party at the end.

When Rotherham United were staring an eighth successive League One match without a win in the face, when they had to stand up and be counted, they found a response.

Paul Warne’s men were trailing 1-0 at half-time, were second best to a slick-passing Blackpool side and, after a bright start, had offered virtually no threat in attack.

What happened next warmed the hearts of all Millers braving the biting coastal cold at Bloomfield Road.

Manager Warne was brave. Centre-forward Jonson Clarke-Harris had blown his big chance after being handed his first league start of the season. The boss had the baubles to hook him at half-time along with centre-half Michael Ihiekwe.

On came young striker Jerry Yates and winger Anthony Forde in a switch from 3-5-2 to 4-4-2. The game changed.

Suddenly, it was all Rotherham. White-and-purple shirts buzzed everywhere. Players pressed and ran, they harried and battled. Chances were missed. Blackpool couldn’t cope. It was coming. It was coming.

And it came. David Ball was in the right place in the 77th minute. 10 minutes later, with the away end in festive ferment, his second goal gloriously completed the fightback.

“I’m pretty excited, as are the lads in the dressing room,” said Warne. “It’s been a while since we tasted victory. It felt like a promotion in there!

“We obviously had to change it at half-time. We played a different way in the second half and I thought we were a lot more on the front foot.

“To go a goal down and then score two at the end where our fans are makes it feel doubly sweet.”

It was the first time in nearly three years - since a 2-1 home win over Millwall in February 2015 - that the Millers had come from behind to take all three points.

THE GAME

Half-time was the most important 15 minutes of Warne’s reign. The second period was the most important 45 for the players as they put their season back on track.

Rotherham, weakened by injuries, illness and suspension, had set up with three centre-halves and were breached only by a stunning 21st-minute 20-yard strike from Kelvin Mellor.

But they were being outplayed and Clarke-Harris was as much a spectator as those who voiced their unrest when the whistle blew for the interval.

“I came in at half-time and realised we needed to change it for something more positive,” Warne said. “I said a few words. There were a lot of things I didn’t like in the first half.

“Jerry and Fordey both had massive impacts when they came on. That’s no disrespect to the lads they replaced. It just wasn’t their day.

“We had a lot more ‘legs’ about us and everyone ran behind Jerry and Bally, which allowed us to get up the pitch more.”

Ball and Yates started pulling Blackpool defenders into areas they didn’t like, Ryan Williams came alive, Forde’s delivery was perfect, Vaulks, defying an illness which had seen him clinging to a radiator for warmth before kick-off, put himself about.

Yates and Ball had good attempts blocked, then Yates fluffed a golden opportunity. He raced through on goal in the 66th minute but, maybe realising he was at the seaside, donned a ‘miss me quick’ hat and blazed his hurried shot wide.

Three minutes later, Richard Wood, getting on the end of Forde’s corner, came close from a set-piece for the 105th time this season, heading against the bar.

Ball showed them how it was done. He turned the ball home from close range after Vaulks’ long throw. Then, from another Forde corner, he risked injury to leap across his marker and settle the contest late on with a courageous header.

“I’ve got a smile on my face - for the changing room, really,” Warne said. “The lads have worked hard ever since they’ve been here and they’ve really felt the disappointment of defeats recently.”

CLARKE-HARRIS

He sent a header wide in the fifth minute and that was pretty much the sum total of Clarke-Harris’s involvement.

Warne offered no direct criticism after the match, but the fact that, in his moment of need, he substituted his frontman and looked elsewhere for inspiration spoke volumes.

The striker, handed a rare start because of top scorer Kieffer Moore’s ban, was once a youngster with potential. He’s 23 now and a player seemingly unable to make the most of his undoubted physical gifts.

The calls among supporters for him to lead the line grow fewer and fewer. His contract is up in the summer and Warne is looking for attacking recruits in the January transfer window. Clarke-Harris may soon become another team’s enigma.

Without him, Rotherham turned the match on its head with a reaction full of spirit, passion, endeavour and character and moved up to ninth in the table.

No boos now. “We love you Rotherham we do” split the Bloomfield air as players and crowd saluted each other after a first league success since October 14. This was how it felt when the Millers were climbing as high as fourth earlier in the campaign.

Warne and Ball, once they’d fulfilled their media commitments by the players’ tunnel, shared a proper man-hug, full of mutual respect.

The manager knew how important this win was. So did the player. We all did.

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