ROTHERHAM UNITED: Dreams of promotion head South

Football League Two 'Rotherham Utd v Southend Utd 'Ben Pringle keeping the ball from Ryan Cresswell
Football League Two 'Rotherham Utd v Southend Utd 'Ben Pringle keeping the ball from Ryan Cresswell
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THERE was an eerie, stunned silence permeating New York Stadium at the end.

It was probably the air of disbelief hanging over the good folk of Rotherham as they trooped off. You might say it was disbelief from the believers!

Because, they, we, all believed - and had been led to believe - that this really was the works this time.

Despite a nightmare half-hour at Port Vale, along with the sort of ups and downs all teams have, they have kept flocking to the new home with optimism still very high.

But here was a real, numbing shock. No-one reckoned on them being so impotent and then being dismantled like they were in the second half and crumbling into such disarray.

If these are good players - on paper and reputation, very good for this level - and we have been constantly told that they are, what on earth has gone wrong?

Assistant manager Paul Raynor decided he couldn’t defend the indefensible. It was with a rare, brutal honesty of the sort that no player likes to hear whether they agree with it or not, that he said there seemed to be a lack of desire, a lack of passion, a lack of spirit.

“What fans won’t accept is a lack of effort and purpose and not having a go and we didn’t have a go,” he said.

By touching on Southend and pointing out “even their gifted players worked incredibly hard for the team and put a real shift in”, the inference was obvious.

As the second-half nightmare unfolded, one pondered the earlier home wins, the 70-minute domination at Northampton with the excellent football, much of the display at Chesterfield - and then wondered how it had come to this. What has happened?

There are good players earning (so we hear) good money, in a wonderful stadium, at a club all fired up to go for promotion with a whole new atmosphere among growing numbers of fans and right across the town.

Yet at the first sign of half-decent opposition, the roof caves in. How come?

Raynor, Steve Evans’ right-hand man, didn’t point the finger only outwards though. He said: “We’ll look inside first. We’ve got to improve as a team but that’s management, staff, and is about everybody pulling in the same direction.”

Fans respond to what they see on a Saturday afternoon.

With all the hype and massive expectation that has built up and the willingness to embrace it, here was an afternoon that was sobering, puzzling and, to be honest, downright worrying if all you can think of is promotion and a bright new future.

You can pick fault all night (and plenty of fans probably did) and point fingers all over the shop but individually and collectively, and in terms of pattern and purpose, the Millers were well below acceptable standard.

It was a day when they looked a collection of individuals. Southend, as Raynor admitted, had a very good shape about them. Rotherham hardly shaped up at all.

In truth, Southend were better, better organised and had a game plan and set-up which they carried out excellently - making it all the more puzzling why they had arrived only in 12th place.

There was also the Ryan Cresswell factor. The former Millers defender was always going to be ultra fired up for this one. Players will trip out the old cliche that they’ve nothing to prove then go back and play like they have.

I’ve no idea what his form has been like this season but he was always going to be a formidable presence here.

It must have been a far easier afternoon than he had expected.

Rotherham made very little happen inside the penalty area - Lionel Ainsworth went closest with a 16-yarder fractionally wide in the first half - and a third scoreless game in four suggests something isn’t going right.

Daniel Nardiello got his return at half-time but his pairing with Kayode Odejayi - first-choice partnership at the start of the season - was allowed just 12 minutes before the big man was replaced by young Alec Denton.

By then Rotherham had caused three scares for Southend including goalbound blocks from Cresswell and Sean Clohessy, followed by the threatening Assombalonga heading the visitors in front on 52 minutes.

Watching was that peerless attacking right-back, Gerry Forrest (guest at half-time), and, by delicious irony, scorer of two penalties when Rotherham last had a home win over Southend back in 1980. The Shrimpers haven’t lost in nine visits to Rotherham now.

He must have smiled at Southend right-back Sean Clohessy constantly running free up the right and Clohessy’s low cross was finished off by Assombalonga on 65 minutes.

Assombalonga should then have had his hat-trick and the rest was a bit of a nightmare because Rotherham got pulled apart a few times before Martin headed in after Shearer had done well to touch Assombalonga’s effort on to the bar.

At the end of September last season, Southend impressively stuffed the Millers 4-0 at Don Valley and rather crushed the early-season hopes that had grown up around Andy Scott and his team .

One hesitates to suggest they have done the same again this time but, for many, they have certainly injected a dose of reality into Rotherham United’s world of hype and expectancy.

The big job for Steve Evans suddenly looks to have got a whole lot bigger.