RICHIE Barker had put himself through a solo session on the treadmill on the morning of the game.
No matter how many miles he ran, the assistant manager won’t have worked up quite the sweat he was in later in the day as he watched his side soak up wave after wave of Nottingham Forest attacks.
The Millers got the fortune their defensive resistance merited as they held out for an away point. They have yet to lose on their travels this season and moved up a place in the table to 16th on Tuesday night.
Three days earlier, they had given everything and finished with nothing against Norwich City. This time, it was different.
“I said it to the players, sometimes you feel hard done to after a game. Sometimes you have to wait for the following week for a bit of luck,” Barker said.
“You could argue that we deserved something out of the game last Saturday. Tonight we maybe nicked a point. It evens itself out a little bit.
“The players did everything we asked them to. They worked extremely hard. At the moment we are mixing it with some very big clubs and holding our own.”
Something so hard-earned can be hard to watch — hence Barker’s touchline suffering in the second half after his side had taken the lead — yet at the same time Rotherham’s effort, resistance and refusal to yield was a sight to behold.
“It was a very good point,” he said. “We are unbeaten away from home against some very good teams.
“Forest are coming off the back of a very good away win at Blackburn and a clean sheet and are under a new manager, so they are full of enthusiasm and have loads of players with loads to prove.
“After the work ethic we showed last Saturday, to come here and do it again three days later makes it a good point.
“We are still averaging only a goal a game against us — and it is the first goal that someone has scored against us that is not a penalty, an own goal or a mistake by us.
“To get so far into the season and for this to be the first time someone has scored from good play is a positive.”
He was in no doubt how the result was earned.
“Heroics,” he said. “And a bit a luck.”
Jamal Blackman, Wes Harding, Michael Ihiekwe, Richard Wood, Billy Jones ... every member of the defence threw their bodies on the line at some stage to make goal-saving interventions.
In front of them, Jamie Lindsay ran around snarling at opponents, spitting defiance, claiming every second ball, winning every 50:50 and racking up more hard yards than any other player on the pitch.
Captain Wood, back in the side for his first league action of the campaign, had been so keen for battle to commence he couldn’t contain himself and ran out 40 yards in front of his teammates.
Forest started better, then the Millers came into the content, but the first half passed with little incident. Five minutes after the interval, though, the game was on.
Left-back Jones, finding himself in nose-bleed territory in the opposition penalty area, was brought down by Cyrus Christie as the Forest defender frantically tried to recover from his own slip and Dan Barlaser stepped up to bury the penalty.
Jones, back in more familiar territory, put in a block on Rotherham old boy Lewis Grabban just as the striker was pulling the trigger and Wood was prominent among the white-shirted bodies as Scott McKenna’s header was kept out close to the line. The home side should have been level on the hour but Sean Yates, once a Millers transfer target, crashed his header from Nicholas Ioannou’s cross on to the bar.
Soon after, Blackman thwarted Grabban with a sharp save and Rotherham erected the communal barrier again to divert Joe Lolley’s follow-up.
Around nine hours earlier, Barker had been spotted working out in a Rotherham gym ahead of meeting up with his squad for a final preparation session and the coach trip down the M1.
Man of the Match Jamie Lindsay
On matchdays, he normally runs with Paul Warne but the manager was an absentee again as he completed the final stages of a fortnight of self-isolation. “We’ve just FaceTimed,” grinned the number two after the clash. “He watched on TV and said it seemed like a long night. I said: ‘You should have been stood where we were, Mate.’”
A Barlaser free-kick that skidded off the turf and thudded into the chest of keeper Brice Samba was brief respite before Blackman foiled Lolley who then hit the post with a second shot before the keeper was equal to Grabban’s low drive.
A goal had to come and it came, Sammy Ameobi tapping in a 79th-minute leveller from Grabban’s low delivery.
“What can we improve on? Loads,” said Barker. “I will watch the game on the bus tonight and I will watch it again tomorrow morning.
“There are some things you can’t change, but one thing I am extremely proud of is the work ethic and the desire not to get beat. That is worth a lot. That is not something you can work on on the training ground.
“I think there will be some teams in the league who would swap with us our work ethic, team spirit and desire to keep the ball out of the back of the net. All I can do is praise the players.”
Grabban wasted the opportunity of the match on 84 minutes, rounding Blackman only to criminally hit the side-netting, and the Millers stood firm late on to answer questions about their ability to hold on after conceding in stoppage time in their previous three games.
“It will give the players confidence that they can see the game out,” Barker said. “From their confidence point of view, it would have been heartbreaking for them to go through that again.
“Unfortunately, we couldn’t get two goals in front. We speak to the players all the time about how that will make a difference.”
Wham, Dan, thank you, Ma’am.
Freddie Ladapo missed a penalty against Norwich but there was never any doubt this time as Barlaser was handed spot-kick duties. Samba never had a chance as the ball sped past him.
“It is me who decides who takes the penalties, so it was a big thing to change it tonight,” Barker said. “I got Dan in beforehand and spoke about it. He said ‘yes’ and we spoke about what he was going to do. I’m pleased. Freddie’s been excellent but if you are going to step up and take responsibility ... sometimes it is worth a point, two points, three points.
“I was worried because it seemed to take so long for the referee to give it. I didn’t look at their bench, but I imagine most people at the time knew it was a nailed-on penalty.
“In fairness to the ref, you would rather him take five seconds and consider it rather than get it wrong. The fact he was measuring it up before giving it is good refereeing.”
This was the start of the schedule where the fixtures really start to kick in — Saturday, midweek, Saturday pretty much until the end of the season, with only the odd international break for respite.
Now the Millers have to raise themselves for a trip to leaders Reading on Saturday, a home derby with Sheffield Wednesday a few days later and a vist to big-spending Stoke City next weekend.
Like Barker, on the treadmill.
Goals: Barlaser pen 50 (Rotherham); Ameobi 79 (Forest).
Jamal Blackman: 8
The second game in succession in which a number of saves have proved crucial. Did as much as anyone to earn a point.
Wes Harding: 7
Good at right-back. Less effective when he switched sides as Billy Jones ran out of gas and Forest came on strong down Rotherham’s left flank.
Michael Ihiekwe: 8
Very solid. Assured and composed in the heat of battle.
Richard Wood: 8
A skipper’s performance. As solid as Ihiekwe and met every challenge full on.
Billy Jones: 7
Played very well until his legs gave out on him in the second half. Does the right things and doesn’t waste the ball. Did well for the penalty.
Dan Barlaser: 7
More signs of his class. He has time when there isn’t any. Emphatic penalty.
Ben Wiles: 6
Direct but needs to look after the ball more. Always looking to be positive but sometimes at the cost of possession.
Jamie Lindsay: 8
Forest must have hated him. Never stopped running, challenging and niggling. Millers Man of the Match.
Matt Crooks: 6
Not his best game but starting to look better after a slow start to the season.
Mickel Miller: 6
There’s a player in there, and he’s also an athlete. Has the lungs for the high press and also gets back. Dangerous on the ball at times.
Freddie Ladapo: 5
Starved of service in the second half as Rotherham manned the decks.
Shaun MacDonald (for Lindsay 67): 6
Slotted in well after replacing the tiring Lindsay.
Matt Olosunde (for Millers 68): 6
First action of the season and looked at home in the Championship.
Kieran Sadlier (for Jones 76): N/A
Played his part in the defensive effort. Little chance to shine in attack.
Not used: Viktor Johansson, Florian Jozefzoon, George Hirst, Michael Smith.
Referee: Stephen Martin (Staffordshire) 6
Forest (4-2-3-1): Brice Samba 6; Cyrus Christie 6, Tobias Figueiredo 7, Scott McKenna 7, Nicholas Ioannou 7; Ryan Yates 7, Jack Colbeck 6 (Harry Arter 74); Sammy Ameobi 6, Luke Freeman 5(Lyle Taylor 67, 6), Joe Lolley 7; Lewis Grabban 6. Subs not used: Jordan Smith, Loic Mbe Soh, Carl Jenkinson, Alex Mighten, Samba Sow.
“I am not sure how we did not win. We wanted a reaction in the second half from the players and we got that
“Credit to Rotherham because they are a very fit side and they close down all over the pitch and a lot of that is man to man — so you have to be a very good team to play around them.
“But we had enough good chances to have won two matches. On a good day you put those away. On a difficult day, you do not.
“I do think it was a soft penalty. Cyrus slipped, but I am not sure he made contact. There was a lot going on with another of their players in there as well.
“Yates hit the bar with the header when his timing seemed absolutely perfect when he connected with it. Then Lewis had his chance when he rounded the keeper — they were the moments, even if we did have other really good chances.
“Rotherham will believe they have earned that point. This is the Championship — there are not too many comfortable games.”
- Forest boss Chris Hughton
Possession: Forest 53 per cent, Millers 47 pc
Goal attempts: Forest 20, Millers 7
On target: Forest 4, Millers 2
Corners: Forest 3, Millers 3
Fouls: Millers 13, Forest 25
A point that was worth all the effort. The Millers look so much stronger defensively than the last time they were at this level two years ago.