Rotherham United match verdict: Brentford 1 Millers 0

Matt Derbyshire
Matt Derbyshire

Sometimes it’s not the losing but the manner in which you lose that matters most.

Last week Rotherham United manager Steve Evans had seen enough. His side had been dismantled 5-1 by AFC Bournemouth in the FA Cup and he wasn’t accepting it.

He sent out assistant boss Paul Raynor to tell the waiting media that some players were likely to pay for such a poor display with their Millers futures.

This week, defeat at play-off-chasing Brentford hurt, but Evans’ reaction was very, very different.

No anger. Some disappointment. Also pride.

As promised, there were changes. He brought in three new loan players in the build-up to the match and threw them all in for instant debuts.

All three repaid his boldness to such an extent that had the Millers led by two goals at Griffin Park at half-time no-one could really have complained.

Had Evans been able to already bring in the goalscorer he craves in the January transfer there might have been no way back for Brentford after the break. Unfortunately, the chances fell to Matt Derbyshire. And we all know how the striker, a proven operator at the highest level but without a goal in open play since his summer arrival, has suffered this season.

“It’s hard, isn’t it? Football is tough to take when you play as well as we have today and come away with nothing,” said Evans.

“I think everyone in the ground knows we should be 3-0 up at half-time from good chances. But nothing changes. If you don’t take your chances you don’t win games.

“They get a fortuitous goal. It’s a great strike for the goal. He’s swivelled and put it with some venom into the goal but it comes from the goalkeeper shanking the ball.

“Listen, I’m a manager who hangs himself when we don’t get results. But there’s a difference here between this week and last week. I go away with real pride in my team’s performance today. We shouldn’t lose that game.

“Brentford have had a bit of a football battering today, haven’t they? We’ve outclassed them, outplayed them and dominated for long spells.”

I feel for Derbyshire because he led the line pretty well, put himself in the right positions and his clever running helped open the Bees defence on several occasions.

But that elusive goal looks less likely with each passing game.

Brentford’s Andre Gray had a first-half strike ruled out for offside, yet the way he finished - ruthlessly, emphatically, unerringly into the corner - starkly showed the difference between a forward among the goals all season and one desperately short of confidence.

In the 14th minute, Jack Barmby hit one of several telling passes to put Derbyshire clear but the striker delayed too long, 10 minutes later a long ball by Richie Smallwood deep into Brentford territory saw him make a complete hash of his attempted lob and then, tellingly, in the 29th minute he chose to try to pass to Reece James when Barmby had again sent him bearing down on goal.

Echoes of Alex Revell at MK Dons last season.

Smallwood, Rotherham’s most effective player in recent weeks, fluffed the best opportunity of the lot a minute later. Again Barmby was the provider, presenting his teammate with a perfect sight of goal about 15 yards out, but the combative midfielder inexplicably hit more turf than ball and David Button gratefully gathered.

The difference here is that Smallwood isn’t in the team to score goals.

The Millers must find a way to finish what they are creating if they are to achieve their goal of being in this division again next season. This was a first defeat in seven league games, but only one of those had brought three points. Draws against Blackpool, twice, Cardiff City and Nottingham Forest should all been wins. Check where they would be in the table with eight more points on the board.

“You would expect us to take those chances. But before one or two people in a dark bedroom start saying Alex Revell would have scored them, I’m not sure he would have,” Evans said,

“ Listen, we’re working desperately hard to get other people who can put the ball in the net, and our chairman gives us the most wonderful support. The chairman knows we’re not nuggets. Just look at the three players we’ve pulled from the wilderness. We’ve pulled the two lads from Huddersfield and a kid from Leicester. They’d play in the Brentford team, every one of them.”

Staying on the subject of the new boys ...

Barmby, understandably nervous in his first ever outing in the second tier, started like a rabbit caught in headlights. The 20-year-old attacking midfielder on loan from Leicester soon grew into the game and his ability to spot a dangerous pass and play it instantly had Brentford in all kinds of trouble.

He tired and had to be replaced in the second half, but forget headlights ... spotlights will be on this boy if he can build on what he showed here.

Danny Ward, another new boy brought off early but who will be all the better in terms of match fitness after his first start since November, showed pace, the ability to turn, good link-up play and the work ethic Evans so loves.

His loan move from Huddersfield is expected to become a long-term deal.

Adam Hammill, another loan arrival from the Terriers, to the end of the season, survived until the end of the match. He was the quietest of the three debut-makers, but he can go round his man on either side and showed flashes of the talent which persuaded Wolves to take him to the Premier League four seasons ago.

Evans said: “There’s a lot of encouragement to take today. We’ve had to rip our squad up with the loan players (Tom Lawrence and Emmanuel Ledesma) being recalled, but we’ve brought three other loans in and I don’t think that there’s a Rotherham United fan who’s been here today who will go away and say anything other than ‘Evans has made some good signings again’.

Griffin Park, shoehorned into a space too small for itself between rows of terraced housing doesn’t really belong in the Championship but is a cracking, little, old-fashioned ground brimming with atmosphere.

Every time you turn round, you bump into someone. Stand up and you trip over a laptop cable. Queue for the toilets and a large chunk of your afternoon is gone forever.

It makes for a tight, intense sporting arena, and it’s a shame the Millers couldn’t capitalise in that enouraging first half as the home crowd were quick to criticise and a goal against them could have brought the kind of revolt against their own colours that freezes players’ bodies and ambition.

As it was, Brentford survived to half-time and were a sharper, more purposeful proposition after the break.

They didn’t deserve to be in front when Stuart Dallas drove the ball past Adam Collin’s right hand in the 57th minute, but afterwards they spurned golden chances to extend their lead.

Derbyshire’s effort seconds later was cleared off the line, but six minutes later Gray shrugged off Kari Arnason’s attentions to bring a good stop from Adam Collin and Jota wastefully hit the rebound over, Jonathan Douglas fired wide of an open net in the 71st minute, Alex Pritchard hit the post just after and the Millers couldn’t really have complained if they’d conceded a second.

Yet Evans’ men weren’t done and late on, before centre-half Craig Morgan risked a nosebleed by moving up and playing as a third striker, Paul Green’s flashing header looked to have earned a point.

It brought a stunning stop from Button. Save of the season, said Evans, before upgrading it to the stop of of the Brentford keeper’s career.

“We had to go gung ho, and the game finished almost like ‘you attack, we attack’. They had chances, we had chances,” the Rotherham boss said.

“Then there was the save of the season for me when Paul Green gets a header on target. I don’t know how their goalkeeper saves it and I’m right behind it.

“I think it must be his best ever save because if he makes them better than that than he wouldn’t be playing with Brentford, would he, with all due respect to him.”

Sadly for the Millers, this was one Button that wouldn’t come undone.
The claim to fame of the Bees’ bijou home is that’s it’s the only English ground to have a pub on each corner.

Despite the first-half promise, there were no celebratory beers in any of them for the Millers.

A defeat is a defeat, they need points on the board and the failure to take chances is really hurting them.

But Saturday was more like the Rotherham side that went unbeaten throughout December, not the insipid cup team of nine days ago

And afterwards Evans’ glass was half-full not half-empty.

Brentford: Button 8, Odubajo 8, Dean 6, Tarkowski 6, Bidwell 6, Douglas 7, Diagouraga 6, Dallas 6, Pritchard 6, Jota 7 (Toral 76), Gray 6(Smith 80). Subs unused: Bonham, Craig, Saunders, Tebar, Yennaris.

Rotherham United: Collin 6, Wootton 7, Morgan 7, Arnason 7, James (Richardson 76) 6, Green 6, Smallwood 6, Hammill 6, Ward 7 (Bowery 73), Barmby8 (Newton 57, 6), Derbyshire 6. Subs unused: Loach, Wood, Pringle, Clarke-Harris.

Manager’s view: Steve Evans: We go away pleased with the performance but not happy with the result. Let’s be honest, if David Button doesn’t make the save of his life we go away with a point. And if we go away with a point we’re still disappointed but a point would have been better than losing. I’m sure supporters at both ends of the ground got some entertainment, although our supporters, quite rightfully, will go away disappointed.

Manager’s view: Mark Warburton: “In the end it was a good victory and a clean sheet. The result was important after three defeats, but we have played better against Wolves and Brighton and lost. We started very slowly, which is unlike us. There was no tempo, no intensity and we looked subdued, but after half-time we looked like a different team. They surprised us before kick-off because we expected them to be physical up top, but he threw his new lads in and we took a little time to adapt. The fact that we did showed an intelligence within the squad. After the break we showed a lot more intent and energy.”

Hero: Jack Barmby. Echoes of his famous dad, Nicky, in the way he can spot a pass and deliver it in an instant. A promising debut and the 20-year-old could become a big weapon for the Millers as he gets to know how the team play. A bit of character too to overcome a dodgy start.

Key moment: Pick any of the misses by Matt Derbyshire and Richie Smallwood. Rotherham needed to be ahead at half-time because the new arrivals were obviously going to tire after the break. I fancy the visitors might have held on had they taken the lead because the home fans were waiting to have a go at their side.

Viewpoint: The instant impact of the new boys was good to see and they certainly lifted the Millers up several levels from the cup performance a week earlier. But Evans’ men can’t afford to keep missing chances the way they are doing. The manager knows it and every effort is being made to bring in a new striker.

Ref watch: Paul Tierney (Lancashire). I can’t remember much about him, which is always a sign a referee has had a decent game. One of the better officials on the circuit.

Attendance: 10,851.