IT rained all day, then it rained chances all night.
Gone was the brittleness of Rotherham United’s previous outing against Fleetwood Town, now there was brilliance as they dismantled Lincoln City.
Michael Smith bagged his fifth goal in seven games, should have had a hat-trick, could have scored five.
Backed by a big away following at the LNER Stadium, the Millers had racked up 26 opportunities by the final whistle and only one man had stood in their way: Imps goalkeeper Joshua Griffiths.
He denied Rotherham, and Smith particularly, again and again as the home side somehow hung on for a League One point.
This was a 1-1 rout.
“I thought our performance was bordering on outstanding,” said Paul Warne, who had made four changes to his team. “It was one of the most enjoyable games I’ve had while I’ve had the privilege of bring manager of this great club.
“It was especially good after the display last Saturday. I don’t think anyone in the stadium could have argued if we’d got a second goal.”
His team remained 13th in the early rankings but moved to within two points of the play-offs. The sixth straight league win at Lincoln that they deserved would have put them in the top six.
“Their goalkeeper made some great saves and got the man-of-the-match award,” Warne said.
“I said it to the lads before we got on the coach to come here, we make changes but we don’t get weaker.
“We’ll keep making changes all through the season because I ask them to play at such an intense level. If I was a Rotherham fan, that’s the level I would want to see my team play at.”
He sighed, a mix of satisfaction and what-might-have-been. “We just needed that second goal.”
At the close of proceedings, the boss caught up with Rotherham old boy Chris Maguire who had been making his first Lincoln start.
“I get on brilliantly with Chris and shook his hand afterwards,” he said. “Chris said: ‘Absolute daylight robbery.’”
How many strings did Dan Barlaser pull? How many forward runs did Ollie Rathbone make?
How often did Smith think he was about to make it six for the season? How many times did Chiedozie Ogbene scorch past his marker?
Questions on an evening when the Imps’ outfield players had no answer to the Rotherham juggernaut.
Griffiths began his heroics in the 13th minute by denying Smith from close in but the Millers man had his revenge nine minutes later, turning the ball over the line after being picked out by Freddie Ladapo’s low cross.
Ollie Rathbone almost doubled the advantage before the break, speeding towards goal and letting fly with a low, skidding long-ranger that had Griffiths at full stretch.
Michael Smith threatens
Not long afterwards, the second-half onslaught would begin.
“We had more than 20 attempts against a very good home side, against a lively crowd,” Warne said. “No-one misses on purpose. It’s so frustrating.
“Wilesy gets through late on and I’m thinking: ‘Go on, make a name for yourself.’ On another night Smudge could have had three.
“You have to respect the opposition. They’re there to defend, to clear their lines, and they did that really well.
“Our set-pieces were good, there was a thrust about us, our fans were excellent. I can’t say it enough how much the fans make a difference to the drive of the team. I felt a real interaction.”
Lincoln levelled on 55 minutes, Manchester City loanee Lewis Fiorini squeezing through the middle to fire past Viktor Johansson, and Anthony Scully flashed an effort wide as, for a brief spell, the Imps threatened to take control.
But, despite the heavy treatment going in — unchecked by referee Sam Barrott — on the flying Ogbene, the Millers came again.
Smith’s header: saved. Another Smith header: saved. Another Smith header: saved. One of the three, from close range, seemed certain to go in but the Griffiths stop was stunning.
Will Grigg came on as a substitute and his header was destined for the top corner: saved.
The Millers attacked and attacked the end housing their raucous support, stirring memories of the last visit to Lincoln, when Matt Crooks headed the only goal of the contest in front of a packed, pounding stand.
As the clock ticked down, sub Ben Wiles shot wide with the goal at his mercy, Grigg had an effort cleared off the line and Smith finally beat Griffiths only to see his curling attempt go just over.
“I so wanted us to score a winner at that end, like Kyle Vassell crossing it for Crooksy a couple of years ago,” Warne said. “It would have been a magical moment for all of us. Sometimes you don’t get what you deserve.”
Fiorini took his goal well but the whistle should have sounded long before he bore down on Johansson’s net.
“My biggest frustration is the fact that Chieo was fouled in the build-up,” Warne said. “He’s knocked the ball past their lad and their lad has blocked him completely.
“I spoke to the fourth official. I don’t think they understand it. He’s saying: ‘It’s just a coming together.’ I said: ‘Come on, mate, you’ve got to know the game better than that.’
“Chieo was absolutely smoking them down our right side. They just took him out. We should have had the ball, then they broke and scored.”
Nevertheless, Rotherham had responded in the right way to the Fleetwood defeat, immediately putting their campaign back on track.
“It was essential we did that,” Warne said. “I know my group. These are all my players, all my staff. I love ‘em completely.
“I don’t know why the performance level was as it was last weekend. Tonight we shuffled the pack and sent them out there. They were nice and positive from the outset and I feel for them that they haven’t come away with a win.
“If our performance levels are like that every week, we’ll win more games than we lose.”
The deluge had abated but the Tuesday weather was as grey as the kits the Millers were wearing.
At the end, the players made their way to the fans who bayed their approval at what they had just witnessed.
Smith, Ogbene, Barlaser, Rathbone — superb performers all — returned the applause while standing underneath an advertising sign for a car dealership: ‘Soper of Lincoln.’
On their way across the pitch, they’d shaken hands with the West Bromwich Albion loanee who had cost them their win. Griffiths: super of Lincoln.
1-1? On a damp, autumnal night, daylight robbery.
Goals: Smith 22 (Rotherham); Fiorini 55 (Lincoln)
Attendance: 8,788 (1,170)
Viktor Johansson: 6
A relatively quiet night as Rotherham dominated.
Rarmani Edmonds-Green: 7
Assured on the ball and held his own defensively.
Michael Ihiekwe: 7
Rushed one or two things but generally solid.
Joe Mattock: 7
Back to something near his best form. That left-sided centre-back role suits him.
Chiedozie Ogbene: 8
Lincoln aren’t the first team to be taken apart by Chieo. They tried to kick him out of the game and failed. Beat his man again and again and knocked plenty of telling balls into the box.
Jamie Lindsay: 7
Not spectacular, but impressive. Always challenging, always running, always available to take possession, always mopping up.
Dan Barlaser: 8
The pass master. He pinged more often than a well-used microwave. Dictated play, waited for the right moments and got Rotherham moving forwards. Will be very hard to leave him out of the side now.
Ollie Rathbone: 8
Very good all over the pitch. He fights and fizzes, darts and dashes. It looks like something dangerous is going to happen every time he’s on the ball.
Tolaji Bola: 7
Quick, strong, full of energy and he can play. A very encouraging Millers League One debut as a left wing-back.
Freddie Ladapo: 7
Freddie the provider rather than Freddie the scorer. Sometimes he’s accused of looking disinterested but he put in a proper shift and made a real contribution.
Michael Smith: 8
Another game, another goal. In great form. Getting himself in scoring positions more than he used to while still doing plenty of the selfless stuff. Joshua Griffiths won’t be on his Christmas-card list.
Will Grigg (for Ladapo 68): 7
Looks like there are goals in him. A very lively threat inside the area.
Kieran Sadlier (for Bola 67): 6
Got on the ball and played his part as Rotherham tore at Lincoln in the final quarter of the game.
Ben Wiles (for Lindsay 81): NA
A good cameo and he could have wrapped up the match for the Millers.
Not used: Josh Vickers, Richard Wood, Hakeem Odoffin, Josh Kayode.
Lincoln (4-3-3): Joshua Griffiths 9, Regan Pool 6, Lewis Montsma 7, Adam Jackson 7, Jamie Robson 4 (Cohen Bramall 81); Lasse Sorensen 5, Liam Bridcutt 5, Conor McGrandles 6 (Lewis Fiorini 22, 7); Chris Maguire 5 (Hakeeb Adelakun 67, 6), Tom Hopper 6, Anthony Scully 8. Subs not used: Sam Long, Teddy Bishop, Dan Nlundulu, TJ Eyoma
Referee: Sam Barrott (West Yorkshire): 4
“Our keeper, Josh Griffiths, had a great game.
“Rotherham were better than us tonight, probably due to the physicality of their players.
“We didn’t stand up to it in the first half and we gave a really poor goal away.
“But then in the second half, although they had a lot more shots and Josh had to make more saves, we stood up to them more. We were a bit more aggressive and took the game to them a little bit. There was a bit of quality with our goal, which helps.
“I’ve not stood here too many times over the last two years and said I’m happy with a point, knowing that that was the best we were going to get out of the game.”
- Imps boss Michael Appleton
Possession: Lincoln 53 per cent, Millers 47 pc
Goal attempts: Lincoln 9, Millers 26
On target: Lincoln 3, Millers 8
Corners: Lincoln 5, Millers 8
Fouls: Lincoln 13, Millers 19
“We’ve all been asking in the dressing room: ‘How have we not won that?’ We created enough chance to win three or four games.
“It was important to put Saturday right. I think we did that performance-wise. We’re very unfortunate not to come away with all three points.
“We had meetings after Saturday and went over a few things.
“We know what we’ve got in the dressing room. We know we’re going to be up there come the end of the season.”
- Michael Smith
Few League One teams would live with the Millers on this form.