For fifteen minutes of the second half, that certainly changed. We came out looking much sharper, and we started giving as good as we got in the tackles. I can see why Rotherham were frustrated at times, because we did get away with a bit, and a few free kicks we did get were dubious, but it was only because we put ourselves into the game more. I’d been critical of Hopper and Sorensen to those sitting around me, but they both had good spells at the start of the half. If anything, we looked as good as we did in patches against Cambridge, but against a side that knew how to defend. There was no fear their centre backs would be turned as easily as George Williams on Saturday (still in A&E with shellshock, I’m told), and that left Scully and Maguire going outside, twisting back on themselves and struggling to find the killer ball.
This seems a good point to drop a word about Maguire. I like him.
Haha, okay, maybe I should go into more depth than that. He took a while to get going, but you can see his quality and lesser teams are not going to cope with him when he’s in full flow. He certainly grew stronger as the game went on, and he played a key role in our goal. It started with Sorensen, who enjoyed a good 15 minutes after half time. He found Fiorini in the attacking midfield role, who spun expertly and found Maguire. The former Sunderland man picked the perfect pass in return and Fiorini simply stroked the ball home. I say ‘simply’, it still had to be finished, but it was a super move well worthy of a point on its own.
At that point I made my comments to Matt, feeling as though we were about to impress ourselves on the game. Instead, we were schooled by a side that should have stayed in the Championship last season, who are as settled and robust as they’ve ever been and who will, in my mind, be top six if not top two by May. They upped it a gear and we were left chasing shadows, and that’s not even being critical of us. I stress I don’t think we played badly, not at all, we just got a taste of where the bar is this season.
I’m not going to dissect all of their chances. The odd one came from an errant pass or poor positioning, but in the main we defended heroically, getting in blocks. On the occasions where Rotherham did get a go at goal we had our own green-shirted superhero to stop the ball going in. I recall a keeper from the late nineties called Rinat Dasayev, ‘The Iron Curtain, so named because he was Russian and may as well have drawn an iron curtain across the goal. Josh Griffiths isn’t Russian, but he deserves a similarly impressive nickname after what can only be described as an utterly sensational display of goalkeeping (he was born in Hereford, maybe something around the SAS, aka Super Army Soldiers). He’d already made two great saves in the first half, but that was nothing compared to his second-half display.
The truth is this; we couldn’t get out. If we went short, they closed us down. If we went long, we were beaten in the air. When we did get into an attacking area, we had to ensure we had cover at the back to stop them getting us on the break. I don’t say this often, but I thought they looked fitter, stronger and sadly, better. We did our best, we fought hard and the fact we came away with a point says everything; we got our rewards for a battle. This was the first time this season where I genuinely thought we’d faced a team better than us, and I can only really recall one or two last year (Pompey and Sunderland at home). Their support was loud, they were attacking the Stacey West and often, a big away crowd is actually louder than a decent home crowd. On that note, the crowd was a little disappointing, 8700 with over 1000 visitors.
The best save, for me, was from sub Sadlier. Ogbene was their dangerman, he teased Jamie Robson all night long, and he started the move that saw Sadlier nod down and across Griffiths from eight yards out. Somehow, he got across and clawed it away. It certainly looked to be world-class (yes, world-class), whilst others were just excellent. It was bit like they were laying siege to the Alamo, they battered us time and again. That’s evident in the shot count; 26 with eight on target. Remember, we absolutely battered Cambridge and ‘only’ had eighteen. How very different this game could have been.
We did have a sniff, Montsma fired wide after some decent work, whilst late on we sought to hit them on the break, but Tom Hopper had run a marathon with little reward and couldn’t get away from the Rotherham centre half pairing. Tom was largely bossed by Michael ‘that will kill Lincoln’ Ihiekwe, and I saw a few comments that we should have been able to hit them like Fleetwood did. Remember, Fleetwood play two up top, which caused Rotherham’s 3-1-4-2 a few issues. We don’t play that way, so their back three could manage Tom’s threat a little easier and the emphasis was on our midfield and full backs to create. They choked us though, and as the game wore on, it certainly became a point won, not two lost.
The final whistle couldn’t come quickly enough, but when it did come I think there was an element of pride amongst City supporters. Sure, we’d been battered for long parts of the game, but not because we were so bad; the visitors just deserved more. There won’t be many tougher matches this season, that’s for sure, and Rotherham are as complete a team as I think I’ve seen in this division, even last season. They travel well, they bullied when they could and after we showed some spirit to get level, they rallied and came back into the game. I imagine Millers’ fans will be proud of how they responded to their third defeat of the season, whilst we go into Saturday’s game knowing that there’s a different test waiting for us. Ipswich don’t have a Michael Smith, and that alone will give us a big boost.
If I had to moan, we didn’t keep a clean sheet, again, despite heroics from Griffiths. That said, when you watch the highlights back, there was some frantic defending which followed some of the saves, and all in all I think we can be happy with the outcome of the game. Remember, we’re a work in progress, a team just coming into fitness and settling into a pattern Rotherham’s side has been two or three years in the making and it showed.
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