The inquest, the wait, the second half and who's going to score? The story of Rotherham United 0 Luton Town 1

The inquest, the wait, the second half and who's going to score? The story of Rotherham United 0 Luton Town 1

By Paul Davis | 05/11/2020

The inquest, the wait, the second half and who's going to score? The story of Rotherham United 0 Luton Town 1
Michael Smith on the ball against Luton. Pictures by Dave Poucher

 

THE Press were kept waiting.

Paul Warne had plenty he wanted to say to his players after Rotherham United's most worrying result of the season and the dressing-room inquest was a prolonged one.

It was close to 10.30pm, nearly an hour after the final whistle, by the time the manager arrived to talk about a match from which the Millers expected to take something but emerged with nothing.

If Rotherham are to stay in the Championship, they can't afford to let home matches against sides like Luton Town slip through their grasp.

Warne was asked if he could share what he'd said to his players who'd fallen away from their first-half standards to allow the Hatters to take control and score a damaging winner.

"I could do. I'm not sure I will," he said. "I spoke to the lads and told them where I thought the game went wrong and I asked them what they thought.

"It's okay them having the manager telling them this, that and the other but, fundamentally, if they don't buy into what I am saying, there's a problem. I need to make sure they see it the same way as me.

"In previous games, there haven't been massive pockets of time where we have under-performed but tonight we have had a 15/20-minute spell where we were all disappointed."

After an encouraging start, the Millers' season - the derby win over Sheffield Wednesday apart - has taken a turn for the worse as the fixtures have started to come even thicker and faster in this Covid-19 campaign than they would in more precedented times.

No team expends more effort in games and Warne, who made only two changes to Luton's six from the weekend, mused about the cumulative effects of always being at full throttle.

"There was no physical response (after Luton's goal)," he said. "The lads have given everything over the last couple of weeks. I don't know whether it was a step too far. That's on me, not on them.

"Normally if we go a goal down, I fancy us to get back in it. We just didn't have enough in the final third tonight. I was disappointed. A lot of it is due to physicality. We definitely need to freshen the team up."

Where the other problem lies is evident: in only a single match have Rotherham scored more than once and in ten league games their strikers have a combined goal tally of one.

THE CONTEST

In previous matches, the Millers have had periods where they've been second best, occasions when they've been pinned back, moments where they have been undone by quality or contributed to their own downfall.

But always they have been in games, finding a way, imposing their will and conditioning, running, pressing, probing, asking as much of the opposition as their opponents have been asking of them.

They've looked a solid Championship side.

The second half against the Hatters was different. Warne's men appeared beaten even before the goal went in, lacking confidence in their ability to get at the visitors. For the first time, they struggled, running out of questions and finding no answers.

The first half was business as usual - with Town boss Nathan Jones later admitting his midfield had been "overrun" - and showed little sign of things to come as Jamie Lindsay twice came close to giving Rotherham the lead.

Millers star man Ben Wiles

There were chances too for Michael Smith but the forward's confidence is as out as his luck and he didn't come close to converting either of them.

Luton had served notice of their danger as the break approached with efforts from George Moncur and Matty Pearson and the half-time introduction of Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu's muscular midfield thrust turned the contest. When James Collins got across the home defence to volley in Luke Berry's superb whipped free-kick in the 70th minute, the game was up.

Even a quirk of circumstance was conspiring against the Millers. They were attacking the North Stand after the interval and, for some reason that must be connected to the lack of fans, no goal has been scored at the kop end this season.

"I thought we were really good in the first half," Warne said. "We didn't create enough clear-cut chances but I thought we dominated the play. Every time we broke, Luton fouled, but our set-pieces weren't great.

"Second half, it wasn't good. We weren't anything like we have shown in previous games. We hadn't made many changes. Maybe it was a fatigue thing.

"Nathan made six changes. Because he wins, that looks like it was the right decision. If we had gone 1-0 or 2-0 up in the first half, it might have been a different story.

"We just couldn't handle them for a 15-minute period in the second half. They deserved their goal. They outplayed us."

Before the goal, Michael Ihiekwe had cleared off the line from Harry Cornick and Collins had fluffed his lines in front of an open net. After it, Moncur looked certain to double the advantage only to inexplicably loft the ball straight into Jamal Blackman's arms and Berry smacked the post with a shot.

A header wide from substitute George Hirst late on was Rotherham's only riposte.

Rotherham had lost Joe Mattock to injury in only the 11th minute and Ben Wiles, who had started with an offensive remit, had to drop back. Had the youngster played as well in an attacking role as he did as a defender, he could have made all  the difference

"Joe coming off so early in the game was a massive blow for us," Warne said. "We had worked on Wilesy being the 10, being the creative link, then he has to go to left-back. He was our outstanding player by a country mile."

UP FRONT

Where are the goals going to come from?

Smith isn't showing the form he did in this division two years ago, Freddie Ladapo, whose game is all about scoring, has managed only one so far, Hirst has something but is raw and unproven and Vassell hasn't had a look-in in recent weeks.

"We do need to take more chances, that is for sure," Warne said. "Smudge had a couple of opportunities. It is the responsibility of the whole team to score, just as it is to defend.

"I don't think there are loads of strikers in the Championship on eight or nine goals. I have changed the strikers. No-one has played every game.

George Hirst

"It is harsh on the strikers, but if you play up front there is pressure to provide a goal threat. We need to score more goals. That is fact. If I had two strikers who had six or seven, we would be in a much better position."

The position, after this game, is 19th.

On the eve of Bonfire Night, fireworks were going off above AESSEAL New York Stadium during the second half, but there was no colour or sparkle in Warne's life.

Neither was there any waiting around by the manager at the final whistle, his actions betraying his anger more than his words.

Usually, win, draw or lose, he stays out to interact with players of both sides. This time, after a perfunctory acknowledgement of old pal Jones, it was different.

Straight down the tunnel.

Goals: Collins 70 (Luton).

Rotherham (4-2-3-1): Jamal Blackman; Wes Harding, Michael Ihiekwe, Angus MacDonald, Joe Mattock (Matt Crooks 11); Jamie Lindsay, Dan Barlaser; Florian Jozefzoon (Freddie Ladapo 80), Ben Wiles, Mickel Miller; Michael Smith (George Hirst 59). Subs not used: Viktor Johansson, Richard Wood, Kieran Sadlier, Kyle Vassell.

Luton (4-2-3-1): Simon Sluga; Matty Pearson, Glen Rea, Sonny Bradley, Martin Cranie; Joe Morrell (Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu H-T), Ryan Tunnicliffe; Harry Cornick (Kazenga LuaLua 64), Luke Berry, George Moncur (Tom Lockyer 89); James Collins. Subs not used: James Shea, Elliot Lee, James Bree, Sam Nombe.

Referee: Andy Madley (West Yorkshire).




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