‘HAVE YOURSELF a merry, little Christmas...’ urged the PA system as Rotherham United’s second largest home crowd of the season filed out into a blustery Saturday evening.
With the Millers having spent all but 21 days of this season in the bottom three of the Championship, it seemed a rather optimistic yuletide message. And not least because two of those three weeks had actually been the October international break.
But, after the manner in which Neil Redfearn’s side had responded to his scathing criticism of a few days earlier to put a dent in Hull City’s promotion hopes, Frank Sinatra’s upbeat version of an old classic struck the right note.
Certainly, there seemed a belief among the locals that United can get out of trouble this term. That much had been clear during the rapturous reception afforded the team at the final whistle after a Lee Frecklington penalty and a thunderous strike from Joe Newell had proved enough to see off a profligate Tigers outfit.
For Redfearn, the victory was justification for his damning words in the wake of last week’s poor defeat at Huddersfield Town. The 50-year-old had labelled his squad “not good enough” for the Championship and questioned the commitment of his players.
“The manager was right to say what he did,” admitted goalscorer Newell after Rotherham had moved up a place to 22nd in the table. “We all knew the way we performed at Huddersfield was out of line. We should have been better.
“The first half that night was completely not like us, I don’t think you will see that again this season. He (Redfearn) is the manager and has the right to do that. But we responded in the right way, there was no better way to do that than by beating Hull.”
Helping fuel the belief that Rotherham can use the victory over the Tigers as a catalyst for an escape from the relegation zone is rock bottom Bolton Wanderers being next up at the New York Stadium on Boxing Day.
Neil Lennon’s side have won just once in 22 league outings this term and boast only a fraction of the attacking armoury that Hull possess.
“Bolton is a game where we need to get something,” added Newell. “Beating a top side in Hull, a Premier League team, gives us confidence. We believe we should be in this division, we know we can stay up.”
From a Rotherham perspective, Saturday’s all-Yorkshire clash was all about how Redfearn’s men had responded to his post-Huddersfield diatribe.
For Hull, however, the abiding memory of a first visit to the New York Stadium will be the self-inflicted damage that Steve Bruce’s men managed at either end of the pitch.
In defence, City made two crucial errors. First, Moses Odubajo got in such a tangle with himself that a stray leg in trying to reclaim possession brought a foul on Kirk Broadfoot that left referee Eddie Ilderton with no option but to point to the spot. Frecklington then did the rest to put the Millers ahead.
Hull’s second moment of madness came 12 minutes into the second half when Andrew Robertson decided to try and dribble his way out of defence.
Frecklington duly dispossessed the Scot, found Newell and he finished brilliantly past Alan McGregor with a shot that cannoned in off the underside of the crossbar.
Both errors by the two full-backs were poor. As, it must be said, was the Tigers’ finishing at the other end.
No-one embodied this more than Chuba Akpom. Five times the on-loan Arsenal striker was presented with a gilt-edged chance and five times he squandered the opening.
His worst miss came just before the interval. Picked out brilliantly by Abel Hernandez’s cross, Akpom seemed caught between choosing to head the ball into the net or sticking out a leg. And did neither, instead trying to chest the ball and Rotherham scrambled the ball to safety.
That let-off for the Millers was sandwiched by two wasteful shots from Akpom when well placed either side of the break. Moments after the second of those, he struck a post.
He deserved sympathy on that occasion as the angle was tight but the same cannot be said about the second time he struck the same upright eight minutes from time after being allowed a clear run on goal.
Akpom, though, was not the only wasteful Tiger with Harry Maguire inexplicably heading wide late on when unmarked five yards from goal.
With that went any hopes of a late comeback from the visitors to leave Rotherham dreaming of a merry, little Christmas and the ultimate present of a leg up out of the bottom three.
“Hull are a good side but that was well deserved,” said manager Redfearn. “I thought we pressed brilliantly.
“Some harsh words were said (after Huddersfield) and it did put one or two noses out of joint. But that is football.
“This is a business where we need to get results.
“It needed saying at the time and we got a reaction. Now, we need to build on this.”
Rotherham United: Camp; Kelly (Buxton 46), Broadfoot, Rawson, Mattock; G Ward, Frecklington (Andreu 84), Smallwood, Hyam, Newell; D Ward (Clarke-Harris 81). Unused substitutes: Collin, Collins, Green, Derbyshire.
Hull City: McGregor; Odubajo (Diame 56), Maguire, Davies, Robertson; Elmohamady, Livermore, Meyler (Huddlestone 67), Maloney; Akpom, Hernandez (Diomande 67). Unused substitutes: Jakupovic, Taylor, Clucas, Hayden.