Rotherham’s ground, Clifton Lane, used to be a fortress, but that now seems in doubt as the Titans lost their third consecutive game at home, putting in jeopardy their hopes of reappearing in the promotion play-offs by finishing in the top four.
Once again, the players’ irresponsibility let down the team, supporters and, importantly, coach Lee Blackett, who saw his side throw away a half-time lead of 14-5 as Nottingham took advantage of Rotherham’s continuing indiscipline.
The Titans do not seem to learn the lessons of defeat. Four dismissals on Boxing Day against Moseley were followed by another two yellow cards as hooker Tom Cruse and replacement second-row, Ben Thomas, were sent to the bin on 50 and 70 minutes, respectively.
During their absence, much-improved Nottingham, who have overtaken Rotherham by eight points to move into fourth place, ruthlessly seized the opportunity to exploit under-manned opponents.
Scoring 17 points when Rotherham were reduced to 14 men ensured that the Titans were embarrassed at home again, and while it is too early to press the emergency alarm with 11 Championship games remaining, the South Yorkshire side need to get a grip to stop the rot.
Rotherham have fallen to fifth in the league at the halfway stage of the campaign, but with Nottingham now several points clear of them and Saturday’s opposition, Bedford, just one point behind in sixth place, the overwhelming importance of this game can be seen.
Calm heads and discipline will also be required in a fortnight when Rotherham take on Leinster, the holders of the British and Irish Cup, in the quarter finals of the competition at Clifton Lane.
So, there is a lot at stake and any repeat of the recent, reckless behaviour is likely to destroy the club’s potential.
The playing conditions, a swirling wind, proved a challenge for both sides. Rotherham’s two tries in the first half by centre Lloyd Hayes, both skilfully created and taken, provided an unconvincing lead of nine points.
With the wind behind them, Rotherham should have built a bigger advantage, but fly-half James McKinney, so accurate against Doncaster the previous Sunday, missed four penalties.
Even though the wind was in their favour, kicking conditions were still difficult to master and after missing one attempt, arguably Rotherham should have then kicked to the corner to create try-scoring chances from lineouts.
However, the game was lost because of Rotherham’s two yellow cards and because Nottingham’s forwards and fly-half Dan Mugford dominated the conditions in the second half as they scored 23 points.
Mugford put over three penalties and the converted tries on 60 and 80 minutes by outstanding Nottingham forwards, hooker Shaun Malton and flanker Brent Wilson, brutally reminded Rotherham that it is impossible to compete in such a strong league if a team is under-strength.
Behind at 28-14, despite a fine move that produced a sixth Championship try for winger Michael Keating in stoppage time, Rotherham were unable to claim a losing bonus point and left the field without any return.
As Keating readily admitted: “It’s going to be a massive challenge and Bedford will be thinking there is a scalp to be taken on the back of three losses at home by Rotherham.
“Everyone says that Clifton Lane is a hard place to come to, but, to be fair, it’s the same for both teams because it is a narrow pitch.
“Indiscipline is killing us, but I thought Nottingham played the referee well, getting penalties and players in the bin.
“We knew all week that the wind was going to be difficult and we trained accordingly, so it’s really disappointing because they played the conditions better. Our goal remains a top-four finish and we are still confident about achieving that.”
Centre Jack Roberts is allowed by Leicester Tigers to play in the next two games.
Rotherham Titans: Scanlon, Keating, Hayes, Roberts, Dowsett (Davies 77), McKinney (Barrett 77), White, Hislop (Gadd 77), Cruse, Tampin(Thiede 60), Parker(Thomas 55), Holmes, Rieder, Preece (Birch 72), Ryan (Argyle 60).
Nottingham: Robinson, Hough, Styles, Pohe (Maisey 77), Longi, Mugford, Ma’afu (Porter 80), Malton, Holford (Carey 67), Freeman (Price 67), Montague, Calladine, Wilson, Grant.
Referee: T Wigglesworth.