For the first time in what seems like an eternity, I went to today’s game with Rotherham actually expecting a win. I cannot remember the last time I expected victory going into a game and that is testament to the way Phil Parkinson and his players have begun to slowly turn things around in the past month or so. But it is these heightened expectations that make defeat that much more difficult to swallow.
Today’s defeat was thoroughly disappointing. Having seen the way the team performed in the previous two games against Crewe and Shrewsbury, the difference could not have been any more obvious. The spark was lacking today – the tempo and pace which were so decisive in the last two victories were completely missing. Despite the lack of a performance of any note from City, they were unlucky to be on the end of a 3-0 score line.
The first half was a turgid affair. Scrappy play often interrupted by even scrappier play led to a dull showcase with a lack of substance. Two chances of note came in the first half; one for City and one for Rotherham. On the counter James Hanson beat the Rotherham centre half to the ball, but struck his venomous shot from 15 yards straight at the keeper. Rotherham’s single first half chance came after good work got them in behind the City defence only for the shot across goal to drift wide of McLaughlin’s post.
It seemed as if City were playing to contain Rotherham in the first half and it was working well, but at the expense of any real attacking threat. The first half was an even affair, lacking any quality, but that was unfortunately as good as it got for the Bantams this afternoon.
The second half saw City struggle to make any impact on the game.
But it could have been a lot different.
The ball fell to man-of-the-moment Nahki Wells on the edge of the box, through one on one, but unfortunately his touch let him down and the frustration was clear to see on the young Bermudans face. Wells had a slow start to his City career, struggling to get in the match day squad and jetting off with Bermuda, but his recent performances have been extremely encouraging. Today, however, Wells and his strike partner James Hanson – whose own performances have been improving dramatically lately – were left both isolated and frustrated in a game where they barely had any scraps to feed off, let alone decent service.
City didn’t once threaten the score sheet after this and 3 goals in eleven minutes wrapped up the game for Rotherham.
Jon McLaughlin has been superb recently and a big factor in City’s defence turning into one of the meanest in League Two, but he had a hand in all 3 goals conceded today. He wasn’t alone, though, as the referee had a contributing hand in 2 goals too.
The first goal, which came from a soft, soft free kick, was smashed home by Lewis Grabaan after McLaughlin dropped the ball. Having been floated in from the free kick, McLaughlin came, dropped and Grabaan wasted no time in hitting the ball into the back of the net. 9 times out of 10 nowadays McLaughlin would have won a free kick (I think, it’s difficult to tell when you’re watching the game sat in Barnsley) but he should have been stronger when coming to deal with the ball.
Within 5 minutes Rotherham had doubled their lead as Grabaan also doubled his tally for the afternoon. A long punt forward sent Sam Wood free as he and McLaughlin raced to the ball inside the box. McLaughlin appeared to win the ball in the tackle as it ricocheted off Wood and out for a goal kick. But the referee saw differently and opted to award a penalty. Grabaan sent McLaughlin the wrong way from the resulting spot kick and it was effectively game over.
And by the 75th minute Rotherham had a gloss on the score line they did not deserve. McLaughlin was spotted off his line, and Brett Williams shot more in hope than expectation from 30 yards, managing to beat McLaughlin as he fumbled into the net.
A poor day for the young goalkeeper, but it would be silly to lambast him too much, as he has been part of the mini revival and the defence look a lot more assured with him behind them than they did Duke earlier in the season.
And it was a poor day at the office for City, too. Parkinson, forced into changes today, with the fresh injury to Simon Ramsden, expiration of Jack Compton’s loan and knock to Ritchie Jones exposed a weakness to the City squad.
Charlie Taylor was given his debut on the left, but he looked woefully short of having the required ability to perform in League Two. It may be too early to judge him, and today was a difficult game to be thrown in to, but I fail to see what he brings as cover that Luke O’Brien couldn’t do for a month as Parkinson searches for another winger.
The recent unbeaten run came to an end today, perhaps reigning in recently increased expectations. It may also reinforce the manager’s hand when it comes to releasing funds for squad strengthening this month. City clearly have the makings of a decent team together now and on another day there is no reason why City couldn’t have won today.
The main thing to take from today’s game for City is that they cannot rest on their laurels. Hard work and graft have given them the chance to pull away from danger and they need to continue with this to ensure the rest of the season is played out with little drama.