Rotherham United 0 Birmingham City 1 - Harlee Dean’s late goal a knife through heart for Millers

“You could hear Birmingham celebrating and that’s the sad thing about sport. If you’re in their dressing room, life is perfect and if you’re in ours it’s brutal,” reflected Rotherham United manager Paul Warne after his self-styled “week of death” ended with a killer blow.

On Thursday, his players looked lethargic – understandably so having played 48 hours earlier – and got what they deserved against Coventry City. Versus Lee Bowyer’s Birmingham City they were the better side but too often when that is the case, the Millers do not get what they deserve.

The 0-0 draw they were heading for would have been disappointing, but at least something. To lose 1-0 to an 89th-minute Harlee Dean header was a knife through the heart.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The week which started with a morale-boosting home win ended with balloon-bursting back-to-back home defeats.

Agony and ecstasy: Birmingham City's Harlee Dean celebrates scoring their later winner against Rotherham United. Picture: Zac Goodwin/PA Wire.

“I have to go in (to the dressing room) trying to pick myself and my staff up, and say: ‘Look, you’re still in it,’” said Warne. “As soon as you lose your belief you might as well not turn up. We’re still in it, although I’m not saying it isn’t harder now.

“Three points would have been great, even a point.”

The defeat in itself was damaging, keeping Derby County four points ahead with two games in hand for a team with fewer points than games played again. But it also nudged Birmingham closer to safety – not there yet, Bowyer stressed afterwards, but a lot more comfortable – and Coventry rubbed salt in the wound by surprisingly beating Barnsley.

Rotherham played well – not brilliantly, just well – but whatever way you looked at it, it was a bad day for them.

Squeezed out: Birmingham City's Kristian Pedersen (left) and Steve Seddon (right) and Rotherham United's Freddie Ladapo battle for the ball. Picture: Zac Goodwin/PA Wire.

Lewis Wing was the one class player in a scuffle of a game desperately lacking quality and in the first half in particular over-dependent on set pieces.

The recalled Freddie Ladapo looked to be on the same wavelength but neither he nor strike partner Michael Smith were able to take their chances. Pushed deeper by the return of a front two, Matt Crooks pulled back the ball Smith ought to have hit the target from but that apart his most notable contribution needed to be a slide tackle in his own penalty area on Jonathan Leko.

A couple of chances fell Wing’s way but despite some impressive performances since joining on loan from Middlesbrough, the midfielder is yet to score for Rotherham. When wing-back Clark Robertson released centre-half Richard Wood down the left early in the second half Blues captain Dean heroically throwing himself in the way of Wing’s shot.

Warne picked five central defenders in anticipation of what was coming, primarily plenty of exocet throw-ins from Callum Roberts. Birmingham had been lifted by the appointment of former Leeds United midfielder Bowyer five matches ago but his three wins had all come at St Andrew’s. For all the discomfort Roberts caused in the first half, Rotherham kept actual chances to a bare minimum.

Wounded warrior: Rotherham United's Richard Wood receives medical attention during the 1-0 defeat. Picture: Zac Goodwin/PA Wire.

Early on, Ladapo cleverly let the conclusion of a one-two with Wing run across him and shot just wide. The pair combined from excellent passes by the latter in either half but Ladapo, Wing and Shaun MacDonald all had shots blocked from the first, Ladapo fired across without a touch from the second.

Wing played a one-two with Shaun MacDonald from a first-half short corner and drilled low for the other MacDonald, Angus, to touch just wide.

Michael Ihiekwe volleyed over when a Wes Harding throw caused chaos, and Smith ought to have hit the target from Crooks’s assist. He looped a header from Harding’s second-half cross onto the roof of the net.

The game became more one-sided after the break, but inevitably the intensity faded.

“I feel for them,” said Bowyer. “To play Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday is crazy.”

Warne had “nothing but respect for the lads, you could see they were jaded nearer the end. It didn’t feel like a fully-level playing field.”

Two spells of treatment for a struggling Angus MacDonald drew the sting out of the game and although Ben Wiles, Jamie Lindsay and George Hirst were thrown on for the last 10 minutes, you wondered in hindsight if they did not need refreshing sooner.

When Ladapo dwelt on the ball in the 74th minute, Crooks was brilliant in the wrong penalty area from Rotherham’s perspective to stop Jonathan Leko.

Viktor Johansson saved a Lukas Jutkiewicz header from Maxime Colin’s cross but with the curtain close to falling, Dean produced one he could not keep out.

“If you don’t score goals, you don’t win games,” said Warne. Huddersfield Town might be the only team more prolific in the Championship’s bottom seven this season, yet still the Millers do not score enough.

“Sometimes you just need a bit of class or just something out of nothing,” continued Warne. “We didn’t have that.

“In recent weeks I don’t think anyone would have argued if we’d come away with three points from Huddersfield or a point with 10 men at Millwall but we haven’t taken the opportunities that have come our way. Our box-to-box play has been pretty good but fundamentally we haven’t taken enough chances.

“A good Birmingham side took their chance and they deserve it (their victory).

“We played okay and created enough for what might have been a win.”

Rotherham have the fight to win their relegation battle. Whether they have the quality is less clear.

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.