The storm, the chattering teeth, the big chances and a decent point rather than a poor one ... the story of Oxford United 0 Rotherham United 0

The storm, the chattering teeth, the big chances and a decent point rather than a poor one ... the story of Oxford United 0 Rotherham United 0

By Paul Davis | 27/11/2021

The storm, the chattering teeth, the big chances and a decent point rather than a poor one ... the story of Oxford United 0 Rotherham United 0
Man of the Match Mickel Miller

 

THE signs were there before kick-off that the weather would play a big part in proceedings.

Actually, the signs weren't there at all, and that was the problem.

Storm Arwen was announcing itself to the Kassam Stadium and two advertising banners went tumbling by the reception doors as freezing gusts whipped themselves into a frenzy.

It was windy, so windy; cold, so cold.

What could have been a thrilling contest between table-topping Rotherham and play-off contenders Oxford United ended with two of League One's most prolific sides failing to score.

"The strong wind had a big effect on both teams," said Millers manager Paul Warne. "I would say if affected us more because they are a possession-based team who like the ball on the floor and play little passes.

"It affected us switching the ball at times and it affected the precision of crosses and set-pieces. They just weren’t as good as they should have been considering the positions we got in. The wind just spoiled a game between two good teams."

Saturday's storm did damage but the draw didn't. Rotherham, the form team of the division, remained in pole position and stretched their unbeaten run to 16 games.

THE MATCH

It was a good time to be playing Oxford who were without seven players because of a Covid outbreak.

It was a bad time to be playing them in that the miles of a long, winning midweek trip to Ipswich Town four days earlier were still in Millers legs.

The first half was Rotherham's opportunity to rack up a fourth straight victory and only the width of the woodwork prevented them taking the lead their play deserved.

In the tenth minute, fit-again Ollie Rathbone fed Mickel Miller whose cross arrowed on to the head of Michael Smith. An away following of more than 1,000 were already celebrating when the striker's effort came back agonisingly off the post.

Twenty-two minutes later, the centre-forward turned provider, swivelling brilliantly close to the touchline on the right and picking out Freddie Ladapo who crashed his header on to the bar.

Dan Barlaser in possession

"I thought we played all right considering the conditions," Warne said. "One minute a cross would go flying out of the far post, the next the wind would stop it.

"We came here with confidence against a team we are competing with at the top of the table.

"We played as attacking as we could. We are a team that play forward, run forward and put lots of crosses in the box. We had two unbelievable chances in the first half.

"The lads are disappointed but we’ll lick our wounds. For us to get four points from two away games means it isn’t a bad week."

Before the break, Rathbone wasn't far away with a shot and Smith was off target with another header. All the U's had offered was a wind-assisted deflected cross from Marcus McGuane that had bounced awkwardly just in front of Viktor Johansson's goal.

Everyone was glad when the contest was over.

"F-f-f-frickin' f-f-freezing," said Warne, not because he'd suddenly developed a stutter but because his teeth were chattering far more then he felt like doing.

"Let's get this done quickly and get off home," he shivered to the media gang.

His press conference was supposed to be taking place pitchside but journalists had taken thankful refuge from the elements in a concrete passageway just off the touchline.

As it happens, the boss was in good spirits, choosing to recognise the worth of one point rather than dwell on two missed.

"I’m well happy," he said. "If you’d offered me four points from two away games against promotion competitors I’d have taken it. I appreciate Oxford have got a few problems, but not that many.

"We came here to win and in the first half I thought that was as good as we have been away from home. We did a lot, just not enough.

"I’m happy we’re top of the league. I keep joking we’re on for the treble! We’ve got two cup games (EFL Trophy and FA Cup) and then we start again in earnest in the league on Tuesday week."

Wes Harding defends

Oxford - and fair play to them because no club know better than Rotherham what it's like to compete with coronavirus in the camp - were the better side in the second half.

Up to the hour mark, Rotherham pushed for a breakthrough as Ben Wiles, with a volley that was either cleverly cushioned or slightly mishit, and Dan Barlaser, with a curling shot, came close to opening the scoring.

However, their threat faded and the U's, while never really putting Millers' hearts in mouths, exerted pressure.

Johansson had to save from Nathan Holland and Steve Seddon and the visitors stiffened themselves defensively by taking off Ogbene and bringing on Richard Wood.

Goal attempts and corners were still stacked in Rotherham's favour by the final whistle

"It’s just disappointing we haven’t scored," Warne said. "There haven’t been many games this season when we haven’t.

"I thought we did enough to win the game," he added.

But a draw was a fair result.

IF YOU CAN'T WIN, DON'T LOSE

The away fans sang and suffered in equal measure.

"Special thanks to them," Warne said. "It must have been freezing over there and they kindly waited to clap the lads off. They appreciated the effort the lads put in today.

"We just didn’t have that little bit of luck second half. In the 85th minute I was thinking a point wouldn’t be bad. It felt like one of those days where we weren’t going to score and they might nick it."

Take the point and move on.

Warne said: "I told the lads: 'If you want the parade around the pitch in May you win the league by picking up a point in a game like this.'

"People won’t remember it but this point might be a very good point. I’m proud of the performance, proud of where we are in the league, proud of the following, I’m just disappointed we didn’t get the win."

Rotherham haven't been beaten since September 11, they're League One's second-highest scorers, have the meanest defence, the best goal difference and are on their longest, best sequence in Warne's five-year tenure.

Those signs - if not the Kassam ones that were last spotted blowing down the A43 around 7pm on Saturday night - remain very promising.

**********************

Attendance: 7,620 (1,001).

The Millers

Formation: 3-5-2

Viktor Johansson: 7

Some key saves in the second to make sure the Millers got something for their trouble.

Rarmani Edmonds-Green: 7

Solid and, as usual, very assured on the ground.

Michael Ihiekwe: 8

Not easy for anyone in these conditions but the stand-in skipper acquitted himself really well and had one of his best games of the season.

Wes Harding: 7

Used his pace and mobility to snuff out danger, covering the ground rapidly more than once when he was the last man to stop Oxford attacks.

Chiedozie Ogbene: 6

Three games in eight days took their toll. Dangerous at times but this wasn't the razor-sharp, defence-stretching Chieo we all know and love.

Ben Wiles: 7

A real presence at both end of the pitch. Could have added to his already-impressive goal tally, delivered some neat passes and at times got back with real pace to help out in defence.

Dan Barlaser: 7

An influence, but not as much as normal. The wrong kind of weather for a playmaker like him.

Ollie Rathbone: 7

Scampering, impish Ollie early on before he tired on his return after illness. More to come.

Mickel Miller: 8

Selected ahead of Shane Ferguson and really took his chance. A regular threat down the left flank, either picking up good positions or driving beyond the U's defence. Delivered more crosses than anyone on the pitch

Freddie Ladapo: 6

Unlucky with his header but should have tucked it away. Showed some deft footwork on occasion but was quieter than in his recent outings.

Michael Smith: 6

Also unlucky with his header but also should have tucked it away. Did superbly to set up Ladapo's opportunity. Ran hard but this wasn't his most effective afternoon.

The subs

Jamie Lindsay (for Rathbone 67): 6

Added some steel to the midfield as Rotherham started to dig in for a point.

Richard Wood (for Ogbene 75): NA

Won his headers, let no-one through. Woody being Woody.

Josh Kayode (for Ladapo 83): NA

Not on the pitch long enough to make a real impact as both teams started to settle for a draw.

Not used: Josh Vickers, Hakeem Odoffin, Shane Ferguson, Will Grigg

Oxford (4-3-3): Connal Trueman 6; Jamie Hanson 7, Luke McNally 8, Sam Long 7, Steve Seddon 7; Marcus McGuane 6 (Dan Agyei 70), Cameron Brannagan 7, Herbie Kane 7; James Henry 6, Gavin Whyte 5, Nathan Holland 7 (Joel Cooper 87). Subs not used: Eddie Brearey, Sam Winnall, Billy Bodin, James Golding.

Referee: Sam Purkiss (London): 6

Opposition view

"People who come and watch us regularly won’t have recognised us, but people will appreciate this was a windy old day.

“Our game-plan when we kicked into the wind was to delay the game as often as we possibly could. It was a very honest, hard-working, fair point.

“We knew they were going to come out strongly and we felt if we got through the first 15 or 20 minutes of the second half then we’d finish the game stronger.

“We knew they’d been to Ipswich on Tuesday. We hoped the longer the game went  on that that triip would start taking some sort of toll on their legs. I thought we looked bright towards the end.

“To have so many players out and get four points in a week is a perfect return from these players.”

- U's boss Karl Robinson

The stats

Possession: Oxford 44 per cent, Millers 56 pc

Goal attempts: Oxford 9, Millers 15

On target: Oxford 5, Millers 1

Corners: Oxford 3, Millers 9

Fouls: Oxford 9, Millers 11

Final word

The coldest day since the March snow and hypothermia of Northampton 2018.



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