"YOU can play badly and win ..."
By half-time, manager Paul Warne knew something was wrong with his team.
Rotherham United were leading 2-1 at home to Fleetwood Town and looking for the win that would have taken them into the League One play-off places.
But Warne was a worried man. The Millers were off it and their left flank was an itch the visitors were ready to keep scratching. The boss knew his team would do well to see out the contest.
By Saturday's final whistle, his fears had been realised. and the North Stand was almost as empty as the Fleetwood net had remained throughout a second half during which three goals had gone in at the other end.
"You can play badly and win," said the boss, reflecting on his feelings at the interval when he'd told his men they would have to up their standards or face defeat. "I thought if we could just get through the game ..."
The swing caused by giving up a winning position was severe, ending Rotherham's top-six aspirations and dropping them to 13th.
"For whatever reason. we just didn't seem to have our usual energy and drive," Warne said. "This might be a good reality check for all of us. If you under-perform against anyone you're not going to win and today we didn't perform.
"I told the lads at half-time that we needed to raise our game because Fleetwood were going to come back at us.
"The goals we conceded are hugely disappointing. We lost a little bit of belief in the second half.
"I thought we were also pretty poor in the first half. The opposition slowed down the game and we got sucked into playing slowly as well. We had players walking to take throw-ins, which isn't really us.
"I haven't been critical of the team all season, but that was a poor performance, our worst of the campaign."
Warne wasn't naming names but on an afternoon when no home player truly did themselves justice a restless crowd knew where the issues were.
Wes Harding, who has done a manful job this season as a right-back playing as a left-sided centre-half in a 3-5-2 formation, was struggling after a long trip to Panama with Jamaica during the international break and receiving scant support from Kieran Sadlier.
Sadlier has technique, quick feet and all of a winger's instinct to attack but little of a wing-back's inclination to defend.
Fleetwood exploited the space, Harding erred badly for goals one and four and the contest was lost.
"They are problems that we normally deal with very easily, but today ... I am not here to single out individual performances," said Warne. "I know what went wrong. That is between me and the players."
Town led in the 24th minute when Harding allowed Callum Morton to round him too easily to lash in a tight-angled shot that goalkeeper Viktor Johansson will be disappointed he didn't keep out.
Michael Smith, with his fourth goal in six league outings, headed in Harding's long throw to restore parity just before 39th-minute applause rang around AESSEAL New York Stadium in memory of fan Adam Dewick.
Then Sadlier - showing character and nerve after missing from the spot at a similar stage three weeks ago against Sheffield Wednesday - sent Alex Cairns the wrong way in first-half stoppage time when Callum Camps impeded Chiedozie Ogbene to concede a penalty.
Sadly for Rotherham, though, a player they had tried to sign in the summer was having probably the best game of his fledgling career.
Red-haired and red-faced, West Bromwich Albion loanee Morton had the Millers' defence on permanent red alert: enemy attack imminent.
Having already scored, he ran and ran, hustled and bustled, challenged and contested and ran some more.
"His energy is really good," said Warne. "He plays on the shoulder and he was excellent. He caused problems for our defenders, there's no doubt about it."
The manager was genial but far from jovial in New York's media suite after the game. The defeat, and particularly the manner of it, had got to him.
"A lot of things went on that weren't ideal," he said. "We had a few behind-the-scenes mishaps that contributed to the defeat. But, that aside, our 11 should have been more than capable of performing at a higher level."
Michael Smith scores
Nine minutes into the second half, with home fans screaming for offside, Ged Garner was sprung clear to slip the ball under Johansson.
Just past the hour mark, Danny Andrew's stunning 22-yard free-kick had a net-busting blend of bend, precision and power as it flew into the top corner.
Ten minutes later, Morton was the provider, bursting forward, outmuscling Harding and crossing low from the right into the path of Garner who was denied by a sharp Johansson reaction save before Camps gleefully fired in the rebound.
There were more shouts for offside but Warne was as honest as he was disappointed.
"I spoke to my analyst as soon as the goals went in and he seemed to think they were okay," he said. "You could just tell by the reaction of the lads. It wasn't strong enough to make you think 'offside'.
"We got done by two balls down the side, which doesn't usually happen.
"We have to put the game behind us but we still have to try to learn from it. We are not going to get teams coming here and lying down. You have to answer questions that are put in front of you and today we didn't do that."
A dodgy calf meant centre-half Richard Wood had to be withdrawn in the second half and by then Rotherham had lost the option to reshape because left-back and substitute Joe Mattock's hamstring had tightened up at half-time and was heavily strapped on the bench.
Fans voiced their displeasure when midfielder Ollie Rathbone, probably the Millers' best performer, was sacrificed at the same time.
"I thought we were just going back to front a little bit too much," Warne said. "Ollie is an attacking midfielder, as are Jamie Lindsay and Ben Wiles.
"I thought Dan (sub Barlaser) would give us more control. He wants the ball and I thought he was really good. I could have taken any one of the midfielders off.
"I knew that Ollie had played midweek (EFL Trophy) so I thought he would have fatigued the most. It was a throw of the dice."
New striker Will Grigg was kept waiting until the 73rd minute before making his New York bow.
Eighteen goal attempts to Fleetwood's nine showed that Rotherham weren't without threat, but Town took advantage of a dip in Millers standards to deservedly take the spoils.
You can play badly and win, Warne had hoped.
Play badly and lose was what he got.
Rotherham (3-5-2): Viktor Johansson; Michael Ihiekwe, Richard Wood (Rarmani Edmonds-Green 66), Wes Harding; Chiedozie Ogbene, Jamie Lindsay (Will Grigg 73), Ollie Rathbone (Dan Barlaser 66), Ben Wiles, Kieran Sadlier; Freddie Ladapo, Michael Smith. Subs not used: Josh Vickers, Joe Mattock, Hakeem Odoffin, Josh Kayode.
Fleetwood (3-5-2): Alex Cairns; Darnell Johnson (Max Clark 20, Paddy Lane 70), Tom Clarke, James Hill; Callum Johnson, Callum Camps, Jordan Rossiter, Harrison Biggins, Danny Andrew; Ged Garner, Callum Morton (Ryan Edmondson 84). Subs not used: Billy Crellin, Joe Garner, Jay Matete, Carl Johnston.
Goals: Smith 38, Sadlier pen 45+3 (Rotherham); Morton 24, Garner 54, Andrew 61, Camps 70 (Fleetwood).
Referee: Craig Hicks (Surrey).
Attendance: 8,463 (216).