Full-time: Reading 1 Rotherham United 0

For Rotherham United, the word, Reading, will always stir happy memories of Championship survival.

Tuesday, 23rd February 2016, 9:40 pm
Updated Tuesday, 23rd February 2016, 9:45 pm
Millers players cannot hide their dejection after going a goal down to Reading

On that unforgettable April night at a sold-out AESSEAL New York Stadium last season, the Millers beat the Royals 2-1 to secure their safety with a game to spare.

But here in Berkshire their latest bid to stay in the second tier took another horrible, gut-wrenching turn for the worst as they went down to a 1-0 defeat which could prove to be terminally damaging.

Richie Smallwood was adamant he was fouled by Jake Cooper in the box

Hal Robson-Kanu shot across Lee Camp and into the net in the 66th minute and, with MK Dons drawing at home to Huddersfield, the third-bottom Millers find themselves six points adrift of the nearest team above them.

Neil Warnock has been brought in to lead the fight, but, with only 13 matches now left, it could be beyond even his famed powers of recovery.

His team battled, were direct and weren’t outplayed but, as at Burnley last Saturday when they lost 2-0, they troubled the opposing goalkeeper only once.

Rotherham started the brighter of the two sides, although it was Reading who fashioned the first chances of the game as Yann Kermorgant saw his header cleared off the line by Joe Newell in the 13th minute and seconds later volleyed just wide.

Richie Smallwood was adamant he was fouled by Jake Cooper in the box

The Millers hit back through Richard Wood whose 21st-minute header brought a stunning, full-length save from Ali Al-Habsi.

There were loud shouts for a Rotherham spot-kick on 41 minutes as Jake Cooper slid in on Richie Smallwood after a blocked Grant Ward shot, but the referee disagreed and Smallwood, who’d hit the deck, went into the book for his trouble.

The midfielder is as honest a pro as they come and one thing you’d never accuse him of is diving.

Heading into this match, the good news for Rotherham was that Reading were 21st out of 24 teams in the second-tier form table over the last six games. The bad news was that the Millers, after four defeats and two draws, were in last place.

By contrast, and throwing into sharp focus the size of the challenge facing Warnock’s side to stay in this division, relegation rivals Bristol City, Bolton Wanderers and MK were third, 12th and 13th respectively.

This was an opportune time to be playing the Royals, after the euphoria of the home side’s 3-1 FA Cup triumph over Premier League West Brom at the Madejski Stadium.

Rotherham were unglamorous opponents on a nondescript Tuesday night for a team with little to play for in the league and maybe suffering a little drop in motivation in front of one of their smallest crowds of the season.

But in an encounter that had turned into probably their biggest match of the campaign so far the Millers were again found wanting for quality in the final third.

Warnock, in his third match in charge, had made three changes, bringing in Grant Ward in an attacking role, left-back Joe Mattock and centre-half Wood, with Danny Ward, Lloyd Doyley and Chris Burke dropping out.

The new boss threw on three attacking substitutes in the second half in Leon Best, Jerome Thomas and Matt Derbyshire but Brian McDermott’s side were never unduly troubled as they saw out the game.

Ten months on from that riotous New York evening when then-manager Steve Evans was still in his belligerent pomp, there was nobody threatening to glug pink champagne straight from the bottle.

No points. No goals in seven outings at Reading. No reason to celebrate.

Reading (4-2-3-1): Al-Habsi; Gunter, McShane Cooper, Obita; Norwood (Rakels 65), Hector; Robson-Kanu, Quinn, John (McCleary 73); Kermorgant. Subs not used: Bond, Evans, Ferdinand, Piazon, Cox.

Rotherham United (4-4-1-1): Camp; Richardson, Broadfoot, Wood, Mattock; Halford (Derbyshire 79), Green (Thomas 73), Smallwood, Newell; G Ward; Clarke-Harris (Best 73). Subs not used: Kenny, Shinnie, Kelly, Yates.

Goals: Robson-Kanu 66 (Reading).

Referee: Kevin Johnson (Somerset).

Attendance: 13,504 (271).