At the end, there were handshakes all round from manager Alan Stubbs. He had no qualms with the effort his Rotherham United players had put in.
But his side had been beaten by high-flying Norwich City to suffer their fifth successive loss in the Championship and remain rooted to the foot of the table, five points adrift of safety.
Whereas there had been hope in narrow defeat in recent games against other front-runners Huddersfield Town and Newcastle Town, at Carrow Road there was just the grim reality that, no matter how hard they try, the Millers face a huge task in trying to stay in this division.
Stubbs, claiming all three Norwich goals could have been prevented, used a phrase we’ve heard many times. “It’s about cutting out individual and collective mistakes,” he said, before acknowledging just how good the Canaries were.
“You have to give the opposition respect because they have a lot of quality. They’ve spent much, much more money than us this season. You have to be realistic. You can see the desire and work is there from the players. They’re giving everything they’ve got.”
Rotherham had rattled the Terriers and Magpies, but took a step backwards as they were well beaten in Norfolk in their third match in succession against a team in the top three.
“We’re not going to come up against one, two and three in the division every week,” Stubbs added. “It’s important when we play teams in and around us and in midtable that we take points off them.”
Throwing away winning positions earlier in the season in defeats against Blackburn Rovers and Cardiff City, who were both bottom at the time, already looks costly. And life hardly gets easier. Next up are sixth-placed Birmingham, followed by Reading in eighth.
You might want to look away now. Saturday’s reverse means that Rotherham have opened their season with six successive away defeats for the first time in 95 years.
The last time they did it was in 1921 when they were known as Rotherham County and operating in the old English Division Two.
On the road this season their ‘goals conceded’ record is 3-3-4-4-2-3 and they have kept only one clean sheet, at home to Brentford, in any game so far.
They have shipped eight more goals, 28, than any of their rivals and their -16 goal difference is the worst in the division by six.
Their 12 matches have brought six points. Extrapolate that over a full season and their final tally would be 23.
Wes Hoolahan lit up the first half with a moment of magic, turning and shimmying in the penalty area in the 17th minute before calmly stroking the ball into the net.
With Izzy Brown and Jon Taylor suffering off-days and the home midfield controlling the game, the Millers struggled to create chances, and Cameron Jerome finished off Hoolahan’s 64th-minute cross after the visitors had three times failed to clear their lines.
Norwich’s slick passing had stretched Rotherham throughout and there were good second-half opportunites for Hoolahan, Alex Pritchard, Alex Tettey and Timm Klose. To their credit, Stubbs’ men fought back and substitute Dexter Blackstock’s first goal for the club as he latched on to Darnell Fisher’s cross at the near post in the 74th minute gave them hope.
Fisher, who was Rotherham’s best player, was hit by cramp late on, which left Steven Naismith with space for a back-post tap-in with a minute to go.
Stubbs acknowledges his side’s predicament but is adamant heads won’t drop.
“We have to keep picking them up and identifying where they’re going wrong,” he said. “You can’t just paper over it. You have to look at it. Sometimes it can not be nice, but, hopefully, by realising the mistakes they’re making, they learn from it. If we have to go over it 25 times, we’ll go over it 25 times.
“Accepting losing is easy. You don’t have to try hard for that. The hardest thing is trying to do something about it, and I can see that the players are trying to.”
Unless things change quickly, however, the stats point to only one outcome at the end of the season.
And working that out, to coin another oft-used Stubbs expression, is not rocket science.