LIFE has hardly been a gas so far for Rotherham United in 2015-16.
With the season less than three weeks old, fears are growing about a worrying recession in Championship fortunes – this week Steve Evans even spoke in jest about not being able to afford Joey Barton’s petrol when quizzed about a possible if unlikely transfer link.
The need for a high-octane performance and result in Saturday’s looming clash with Fulham is self-evident ahead of the first international break, but the merit of a seasonal kick-start in last night’s cup clash should not have been downplayed either.
Unfortunately, the Millers’ effort couldn’t book a place in the third round for the first time since 2008-09.
But at least the home punters who turned up were able to witness a much more enterprising and vibrant performance.
It was inevitable, then, that the Millers were to come up against a goalkeeper at the top of his game in Declan Rudd.
His experience at the NYS were pa stark contract from his previous visit when he was part of the Preston side denied a Wembley place in a crushing League One play-off semi-final, second leg defeat in May 2014.
Rudd made vital saves in each half to preserve the Canaries’ slender lead, garnered thanks to a neat 22nd-minute strike from former Leeds United captain Jonny Howson. His exploits helped clear a path for the Canaries second goal – a landmark strike from £8.5m superflop striker Ricky van Wolfswinkel, who crowned his first Norwich appearance since April 2014 with only his second goal for the club since arriving in the summer of 2013 from Sporting Lisbon.
Van Wolfswinkel’s close-range strike on 68 minutes proved the cue to ironic chants of “Feed the Wolf and he will score” from the away end.
It took something far more special to eventually beat Rudd – an 80th-minute volley from substitute Paul Green, produced just four minutes after coming on to the pitch.
But it just wasn’t the Millers night.
Both Evans and his compatriot Alex Neil are due to attend a Pro Licence course next week and while the Millers boss spoke about a certain amount of bragging rights being at stake, you suspect Neil will be the first to acknowledge that his side were a tad fortunate to progress.
The smart money was on Adam Collin being given a first run-out of the season between the posts, with Kelle Roos taken out of the firing line and so it proved, with Frazer Richardson also starting in left-back.
Norwich made eight chances from the weekend, with Sheffield Wednesday target Gary Hooper missing from the matchday squad to intensify rumours he is bound for pastures new.
The use of a second striker in Jonson Clarke-Harris alongside Matt Derbyshire helped Rotherham’s cause. The only thing missing was a goal.
It is perhaps symptomatic of their recent luck that moments after they went agonisingly close to taking the lead, Norwich promptly went straight up the other end to break the deadlock.
Rudd splendidly beat away Clarke-Harris’s point-blank header following a pinpoint cross from the impressive Grant Ward and play subsequently switched to the other end of the pitch with a sweeping move ending in Howson firing a clinical right-footed strike past Collin.
To their credit, the Millers did not retreat into their shells with Emmanuel Ledesma testing Rudd, who held Lewis Buxton’s rebound.
The Canaries goalkeeper then had to be alert to parry Clarke-Harris’s shot with the outside of his foot before the half ended with Collin blocking a low shot from van Wolfswinkel.
The Millers persisted after the restart with Derbyshire seeing a shot deflected over before Rudd made a couple of expert saves in quick succession, first parrying Greg Halford’s far-post header before tipping over Joe Newell’s long-range effort.
Derbyshire then fired wide as the chances started to stack up, with Norwich possessing danger at the other end on the break, particularly down the left, in an open spectacle.
Collin denied Harry Toffolo and Bradley Johnson was off target before van Wolfswinkel had his moment, turning in Andre Wisdom’s superb cross.
A rare aberration from Rudd left Derbyshire with a sight of goal but he wastefully fired over, before the goalkeeper then turned away a curling effort from the same player.
Rudd was finally beaten by Green’s thumping volley, but that was as close as it got.
Rotherham United: Collin; Buxton, Halford, Collins, Richardson; G Ward (Green 76), Frecklington (Maguire 16), Newell, Ledesma (White 76); Clarke-Harris, Derbyshire. Unused substitutes: Roos, D Ward, Rawson, Thorpe.
Norwich City: Rudd; Wisdom, R Bennett, Bassong, Toffolo; Dorrans (E Bennett 80), O’Neil; Odjidja, Howson (Andreu 74), Johnson, van Wolfswinkel. Unused substitutes: Ruddy, Whittaker, Martin, Redmond, Thompson.
Referee: K Wright (Cambridgeshire).