Just after the impressive Lewis Fiorini netted for City last night, I turned to my mate Matt and said; I don’t think either side deserve to lose this.
Up until that point, Rotherham had been the better side, but we’d not been terrible and certainly came out in the second half looking to assert ourselves. Fiorini’s well-taken strike had me believing we might be in for half an hour or so of City pressure. By the time the full-time whistle came, we’d see a game that would have been stopped long before the whistle had it been a boxing match. The point is we didn’t lose, and we did come to learn a few lessons.
My night started by being interviewed in the Legend’s Lounge by Bryan Rundle, and it has to be one of the most nerve-racking things I’ve ever done. I can talk to a captive audience, despite suffering a bit with anxiety, but to talk in front of an audience that are 15% listening and 85% chatting is really daunting. It was something new and exciting though, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I got my biggest smile afterwards; my Dad had spent the whole night saying ‘why would I come and listen to that, I get enough of you in the bloody car’, yet when the interview was finished he’d posted a picture on social media with ‘proud of you son’ as the caption. He’s all bark my old man, and underneath he’s just as human as the rest of us!
One of my key jobs was to analyse the team and I have to say I got a few shocks. The first came at the back; Lewis montsma started over TJ Eyoma and that really surprised me. I know Lewis can bring the ball out nicely, but I think he can get bullied a bit by big, nasty strikers. In Michael Smith, Rotherham have a big, nasty striker. I said a couple of times through the night that I didn’t rate him, he’s an arse etc. That means he’s a decent player, a bit like a slimline Matt Rhead. You’d love to have him, you hate to play against him.
I was also surprised Lasse Sorensen started over Lewis Fiorini. I think that was a case of the lesser of two evils; both players are very talented, but both have yet to prove themselves against the toughest League One has to offer. In terms of pointed aggression, bullying and knowledge, that’s Rotherham. They’re no Gillingham, who are at times a bit too blatant with the fouls, instead they’re a refined version, less direct. They’re the team Gillingham want to be, brutal, strong but a very good football side too. My personal opinion was Fiorini over Sorensen, but I only watch 90 minutes or so a week, not every training session, and I don’t know better than Michael.
There was also a bit of a shock in Hakeeb dropping to the bench in favour of Chris Maguire, although I can see why. Maguire is fit and Hakeeb will need managing through two games a week, so it was a call I hadn’t predicted, but could fully understand.
I thought we started alright, those first ten minutes or so we were in the game. Referee Peter Wright got the ire of the home fans when he didn’t give what looked like a blatant foul on Regan Poole, and another on Anthony Scully, but he was seemingly happy to let the game flow. He got the backs of the Rotherham fans up in the second half, and on balance I can see why. We didn’t get a decision in the first half, they barely got one in the second. I couldn’t say it was a good performance from the referee, but we benefitted from it and he did try to let the game flow, even when a few tasty tackles were flying in.
Having been spoiled at Cambridge, it was pretty much ‘business as usual’ in terms of our attacking threat. Our general play was good, we got down the flanks, or across the middle, but the final ball had nobody on the end of it. Once or twice we flashed decent balls across goal, or towards the penalty spot, and there was no presence there to get a touch. However, at the other end, that wasn’t the case.
Smith was a real thorn in our side, but Ogbene impressed me too. It would be remiss to say too much negative about them; they showed real street smarts. Smith is the centre forward we needed last night, the ball stuck to him plenty and he had a habit of getting it in the area with his back to goal, looking for those runners around him. At the other end, Tom battled, but he was dominated by their centre back and often sent sprawling. In the second 45, he got some joy from the referee, but I’m not sure he won a header or free kick in the first period.
Rotherham took a deserved lead into the break. Just after McGrandles went off injured they scored, and it was Smith. I remember saying I didn’t rate him a couple of seasons ago, but his display deserved the goal they got. I didn’t think we did too much wrong with it either; Bridcutt and Fiorini couldn’t stop Ladapo wriggling away, Poole couldn’t block the cross and Smith strode in ahead of Jackson to put them 1-0 up. It all looked so very, very simple, and it wasn’t their first chance; Griffiths had already made a wonderful save with his feet.
I thought their goal changed us, and we got better after it. That had a lot to do with Fiorini coming on. I’m not convinced the McGrandles / Sorensen dynamic works all that well, but Fiorini and either McGrandles or Sorensen looks better. The Manchester City man had what was our best chance of the half with a long-range drive, and he added a balance to the midfield we’d struggled to find in the early part of the game.
If I were to characterise the first half, I wouldn’t quite say men against boys, but it was a solid, robust team asserting dominance over their slightly naive rivals. Did anyone ever play for their school, and have their year play the year below? It felt like that; in terms of quality on the ball, there wasn’t much in it, but Rotherham looked stronger and savvier, whilst we let the bigger boys get their own way.