Decency, despair and the impending drop ... the story of Rotherham United 1 Birmingham City 3

By Paul Davis | 23/04/2019

Decency, despair and the impending drop ... the story of Rotherham United 1 Birmingham City 3
Dejection for the Millers against Birmingham. Pictures by Dave Poucher

THE tears didn't flow, but they weren't far away.

Even though Paul Warne couldn't say so publicly, he knew the game was pretty much up.

There are two matches still to play and the maths don't quite yet equal Championship relegation for Rotherham United.

However, after a home loss to Birmingham City, it's coming.

The manager was reflecting on a campaign where his men have defied the odds to take the fight so deep into the season, where match after match they have been more than the sum of their parts, where, despite being firm favourites in August to finish bottom by a mile, they have won the respect of the division.

His voice broke slightly in the AESSEAL New York Stadium media suite when he contemplated what's coming in the next few days and the inspiring battle of the previous nine months.

"I'd like survival for the players, not for me," he said.

"If they could stay up they would go down in history as, like, a bunch of gladiators. Even if they fall short by one or two points, I still think they deserve that reputation.

Paul Warne and Birmingham boss Gary Monk

"But football ain't like that, is it? They won't get it."

Rotherham are in 22nd place and only Millwall, mathematically, and Reading, virtually impossibly, remain catchable. The Millers' fate could be sealed at high-flying West Bromwich Albion on Saturday.

All their character, all their spirit, all their camaraderie, all their bloody-minded belligerence hasn't been enough in an unforgiving world where results are everything.

Warne had described the Birmingham contest as "must-win".

The harsh truth is that Rotherham didn't win it.

THE GAME

It was a familiar script.

The Millers led at the interval after a stirring first-half performance. Not long after the start of the second half, they didn't lead any longer.

Rotherham's inability to stay in front has cost them as dearly as anything this season.

Midfielder Matt Crooks ignited hopes of safety with his third goal in three games, calmly controlling the ball on his chest following a wonderful 22nd-minute link-up down the right between Will Vaulks and Ryan Williams and steering the ball in.

The sun was shining, the noise was deafening, red and white was everywhere as fans responded to the club's call for a mass wearing of home shirts, a combined double-chance for Semi Ajayi (blocked header) and Vaulks (shot over) almost made it 2-0, the miracle was on.

Three goals in three games for Matt Crooks

It was a different story after the break as Blues boss Gary Monk moved winger Jacques Maghoma into a more central role and the visitors ran in three goals without reply.

"In the second half, they changed their system and asked us questions that, collectively, we did not have the answers for," Warne said.

"I am not blaming the players; they just did not have it. I just did not think our second-half performance was like us.

"It has not been very often we have not performed at home. We still had a long time left in the game at 2-1 down, but just did not do enough to deserve anything out of it.

"It was a big turning point, the Semi and Will chance."

The boss had made sweeping changes after the 4-3 defeat at Swansea City three days earlier, including swapping both wingers and both centre-halves.

The defensive alterations didn't have the desired effect and Rotherham have now leaked 18 goals in their last six matches.

Maghoma was a Jacques in the box as he worked his way into the penalty area to shoot home unopposed in the 56th minute, Jota picked his spot eight minutes later after Che Adams had raced away from Richard Wood down Birmingham's right and Kerim Mrabti fired the final bullet from the other flank in time added on.

As Mrabti struck, red and white shirts gave way to red and white seats as home fans headed for the exits.

"Birmingham deserved the win," Warne said. "I'm not bitter about that. We didn't have enough of a second-half performance to give our fans something to sing about.

"We asked our midfield to get up with Smudge (striker Michael Smith) but just did not get any second balls. Whether that was luck, judgement or ability, I just don't know.

"Birmingham were quite happy to turn our back four and cause a lot of problems

"We should have kept the ball better for their first goal. I was right behind it and when he hit it I knew it was in. Unfortunately, at this level, if you give the best teams chances, they more often than not take them.

A sea of red and white against the Blues

"We did not take our chances in the first half and the second-half performance was disappointing."

It was a sad way for the drop to draw closer.

In the second period, Rotherham were ineffectual, off the pace, unable to back their strength of will against the quality of the opposition.

The opposite of how they have been at New York for so much of their year in the second tier.

THE GESTURE

Warne was expecting a sleepless Easter-Monday night before raising his troops for this weekend's trip to the Hawthorns

"I'll lick my wounds and tomorrow we'll turn up and have another go at it," he said.

At the final whistle, when he was at his lowest ebb, when a thrilling campaign had finally lurched too far out of the Millers' grasp, Rotherham's manager stayed true to himself.

He was hurting yet he stayed hugged to the touchline and waited for the Birmingham players.

They were in no rush as they were celebrating long and hard in front of the loudest and best New York away following of the season after making absolutely certain of their own survival.

But he waited.

In time, he shook hands with every single one of them before turning away, taking his despair down the tunnel with him.

A leader, a decent man, a good human being, right to the very end.

Rotherham (4-5-1): Marek Rodak; Billy Jones, Semi Ajayi, Richard Wood, Joe Mattock; Ryan Williams, Matt Crooks, Will Vaulks, Richie Towell, Joe Newell; Michael Smith. Unused: Lewis Price, Michael Ihiekwe, Clark Robertson, Ben Wiles.

Subs: Jon Taylor (for Newell, 61), Anthony Forde (for Wood, 68), Kyle Vassell (for Williams, 77).

Birmingham (4-4-2): Lee Camp; Maxim Colin, Harlee Dean, Michael Morrison, Kristian Pedersen; Jota, Gary Gardner, David Davis, Jacques Maghoma; Che Adams, Lucas Jutkiewicz. Unused: Connal Trueman, Craig Gardner, Charlie Lakin, Wes Harding.

Subs: Kerim Mrabti (for Yota, 77), Isaac Vassell (for Jutkiewicz, 81), Marc Roberts (for Adams, 86).

Goals: Crooks 22 (Rotherham); Maghoma 56, Jota 64, Mrabti 90+3 (Birmingham).

Referee: Andy Davies (Hampshire).

Attendance: 10,703 (2,573).


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