Big Match Verdict – Battling Rotherham United turn thoughts to first away win

Get in: 'Clark Robertson celebrates after putting the Millers ahead. Picture: Dean Atkins
Get in: 'Clark Robertson celebrates after putting the Millers ahead. Picture: Dean Atkins
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DARK clouds may be on the horizon, but for the time being Rotherham United can bask in the knowledge that they remain out of the drop zone.

If manager Paul Warne manages to keep the Millers out of the bottom three by the end of the season his achievement would be on a par with Neil Warnock possibly staving off relegation from the Premier League with Cardiff City.

The clubs were united on Saturday when the Millers held a minute’s applause for Cardiff’s air-crash victim Emiliano Sala and their own club legend, former player and manager Danny Williams, who died last week at 95.

“I’m a bit of a fatalist. There was the Danny Williams tribute and I spoke to his wife and his son before the game. I just thought it would be fitting for the lads to win in memory of him, but I’ll take a point,” reflected Warne.

There were various factors behind Rotherham’s failure to take three – “they deserved to nick it, but I’ll say we deserved a draw just to wind up Warney,” said Latics chief Paul Cook.

Though they forced a dozen corners, Rotherham’s delivery could not match the long-throw accuracy of Will Vaulks. Josh Windass scored a high-quality equaliser, Michael Smith missed a sitter from seven yards, and Rotherham had two late penalty shouts rejected as both centre-backs went down.

The point kept the Millers fourth bottom, but Sheffield Wednesday, who are the next visitors to Rotherham where they have won eight and drawn two of their last 10 league encounters, did them only a scant favour with a goalless home draw against third-bottom Reading.

First, though, comes a trip tomorrow to Hull City, one of many clubs Rotherham face in the run-in who still harbour play-off aspirations.

The Millers simply have to find a way to win on their travels and Semi Ajayi is as bemused as anyone as to why they have only five draws to show for their efforts.

Pushed up from central defence into a holding midfield role, he said: “I can’t say why our away form has been so poor because we approach every game exactly the same as at home. The results have not reflected the performances, but hopefully our luck will change on Tuesday.

“Hull have been on a really good run and have managed to get themselves away from it (relegation trouble), but it is a game we go into looking to take three points.

“It’s very important psychologically not to be in the drop zone. It shows that we are on the right path to what we want to achieve this season. If we do drop in it then it is not the end of the world.

“We have strong characters and all that matters is that we are out of the bottom three on the last day of the season.

“I am confident in the group that we have got. We have a good team spirit and togetherness and the fact that everyone has written us off is only going to make us come out fighting stronger.”

The man who forced Ajayi out of his partnership alongside captain Richard Wood put the Millers ahead in the 28th minute.

Vaulks crossed from the left and Clark Robertson headed powerfully home from six yards – Cook having the good grace to apologise to the linesman at half-time for erroneously claiming there had been an offside.

The lead was short-lived as Wigan attacked down the right and Nathan Byrne found Windass in space in the area to fire across Marek Rodak into the far side to make it 1-1 in the 32nd minute – the game’s one moment of true quality.

Smith, however, should have buried his opportunity instead of hitting over after Wood had headed a deep cross from Anthony Forde back across the area just before the break.

Wigan improved after the interval and had their own culprit in Cedric Kipre, who had come on midway through the first half after captain Danny Fox had been carried off with a neck brace on after a collision at a corner.

Central defender Kipre should have headed home from close range as Reece James’s free-kick came over, but the ball flashed wide.

It was left for Rotherham to feel aggrieved after failing to win penalties following two late corners. Robertson was struck on the Achilles before being felled by a flailing arm from Millers January target Leon Clarke and then Wood had his shirt pulled at the back post only to see the decision go against him.

“I’ve seen them back. Centre-halves don’t normally dive. I don’t know how the referee can give the decision against Woody. For what? Putting his shirt in an opponent’s hand?,” said an exasperated Warne. “We’re out of the bottom three in February and the lads are doing great things, but we need to turn draws into wins. Psychologically it’s massive to be out of the bottom three.”

Rotherham United: Rodak, Jones, Robertson, Wood, Mattock; Ajayi; Forde, Vaulks, Crooks (Towell 79), Taylor (Newell 69); Smith. Unused substitutes: Price, Vyner, Ihiekwe, Yates, Wiles.

Wigan Athletic: Jones, Byrne, Dunkley, Fox (Kipre 26), Naismith; Pilkington, James, Baningime, Jacobs (Massey 90); Windass, Clarke. Unused substitutes: Walton, McManaman, Roberts, Olsson, Garner.

Referee: O Langford (W Midlands).