Fear of relegation taking toll on Rotherham United and Huddersfield Town

After seeing his side draw at Huddersfield Town, Rotherham United manager Paul Warne walked up the steps of the John Smith’s Stadium press box, greeting reporters on his way, and into an empty room, sat at a table and to his surprise on the computer in front of him saw all the same masked faces again, now with the added obstacle of the delays and interference of a Zoom line to contend with.

Terriers' Danny Ward and Millers' Michael Ihiekwe challenge for the ball. Pictures: Tony Johnson

It all seemed a bit pointless. “I may as well just have talked to you out here,” he reasoned on his way out.

Everything about Saturday’s game felt a bit futile, a match ticked off without much achieved by either side. Needing to move on from bad defeats at the start of the week, Huddersfield and Rotherham got bogged down in their battles against Championship relegation.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The Millers could take some comfort from their football, but not much.

The Terriers' defence manage to keep their goal intact with Millers' Michael Smith piling on the pressure. Picture: Tony Johnson

As Warne put it: “We leave really pleased with the performance but it’s the time of the season where performance isn’t as important as points.”

The scoreline said 0-0 but the mood in the away dressing room was “like a defeat” after Matt Crooks and Lewis Wing hit the woodwork and Ben Wiles missed an excellent chance in the dying minutes.

The Terriers got even less out of it. They are a point better off but the gap to safety is the same, their league position unchanged because whilst they moved above Derby County, Birmingham City leapfrogged both of them.

Since an encouraging first half of the season, they have been treading water, their 2021 points tally the Championship‘s lowest. In March, they became hard to beat, but no-one could say that at the end of a week which saw them concede seven goals at Norwich City, and cut open often enough to be uncomfortable by a Rotherham side in the relegation zone.

Juninho Bacuna tangles with Lewis Wing. Picture: Tony Johnson

The odds are still that Huddersfield will stay up this season, perhaps as narrowly as last, but it feels like they are just clinging on, hoping three teams are worse. If the football had improved that would be progress, but once more the pre-Christmas gains have not been built on. Supporter patience with Carlos Corberan is wearing thin but having deservedly extended his contract at the end of December and with finances tight, the club feel wedded to him, for better or for worse.

“We wanted to turn the page from Norwich with a very good result and performance and we didn’t get either,” said the coach.

There was a point where it felt like his team might actually do something, kicked into life by Crooks missing the first chance of note in a game thus far bereft of quality.

Wing, outstanding in a three-man midfield, picked out Wiles, who did well to get to the byline and pull the ball back. Crooks, restored to the No 10 role as Warne reverted to the 3-5-1-1 that served his side well earlier in the year, was invited to pick his spot. He found the base of the post.

It jolted Huddersfield into life and Fraizer Campbell moved alongside Yaya Sanogo, having started wide of him in a 4-2-3-1, and began to link well with the targetman but the visiting defenders stood strong. Angus MacDonald smothered Sanogo’s shot from Campbell’s pass, Wes Harding headed a cross from the latter behind, Sanogo poked a Juninho Bacuna centre wide and Viktor Johansson saved well from Richard Keogh.

The second half, though, was all Rotherham, Duane Holmes forced to defend well when Wing’s lovely chipped pass released Wiles, Schofield’s third save from Wing his best.

“I was expecting the net to ripple,” admitted Warne.

In between time, Naby Sarr appeared to shove Richard Wood in the penalty area but referee Lee Mason was having none of it.

Huddersfield looked a threat on the counter-attack, the more so when Sorba Thomas came on as part wing-back, part full-on member of a front three, but it was an optical illusion.

Promising when he came off the bench at Carrow Road, Thomas was straight into the action in West Yorkshire, too, but his cross was cut out by Wood, who used his nous well to usher another substitute, Scott High, away from goal when he broke.

Played through with Thomas outside him and Lewis O’Brien down the middle, Bacuna overhit his pass but not as woefully as Thomas when another break threatened late on.

“I don’t think it’s the pressure of the situation,” insisted Corberan. “We didn’t give the last pass or the right cross in the right way but I don’t think it’s a lack of confidence or fatigue, we just need to continue working on it. Our challenge is to find more accuracy in this part of the pitch.”

If it was not a lack of confidence, it certainly looked like it from the press box. Rotherham only had themselves to blame for not punishing Huddersfield.

Wing and his opportunism, hitting a 30-yard free-kick onto the crossbar when everyone was expecting a cross, deserved more but when Michael Smith served up a chance even better than Crooks’s for Wiles, he could not even hit the target.

The modern fashion is for website and newspapers to “learn” five things from every football match they cover. Good luck with that on Saturday.

“Our second half performance was better, there was more passing from us and we did ask more questions,” said Warne. “Unfortunately, the big question we couldn’t answer was to put the ball in the back of the net.”

Both sides are keeping us in suspense. It is not a nice place to be.

Support The Yorkshire Post and become a subscriber today. Your subscription will help us to continue to bring quality news to the people of Yorkshire. In return, you’ll see fewer ads on site, get free access to our app and receive exclusive members-only offers. Click HERE to subscribe.