Rotherham United relieve the pressure on Paul Warne in style
On the back of a six-game winless run, it was Warne himself who, in the build-up to Saturday’s contest, revealed he was feeling the pressure as his beloved Millers struggled to get away from the wrong end of the Championship table.
However, by the time his side had produced this excellent performance to dismantle opponents who were sitting in the play-off places, Rotherham looked anything but relegation candidates.
Crooks, whose fourth-minute goal put them in charge from the early stages, was bemused by the line of questioning regarding how much the manager being under pressure was a factor in the win.
He said: “I’ve not felt any outside pressure. You want to prove yourself every game and try and do your best for the club and yourself. I didn’t treat it as any different to any other game.
“It’s the first I’d heard he’d been in trouble. We’ll always play for ourselves and especially for the gaffer. We’ll continue to do that and we back him.
“I don’t know what’s been said. I don’t really follow it. But, hopefully, we’ve shown him today that we have the players and the capabilities to do well in this league. I didn’t realise how high up Bristol were until I looked at the table.”
Perhaps Crooks, the tall 26-year-old who brings such strength and purpose to the Rotherham midfield, never contemplated Warne would be feeling tense as he knows himself just how good the side can be.
Doing it more often, of course, is now the key aim.
Playing with such pace, invention and precision, Bristol certainly struggled to ever get to grips with them and the hosts could easily have been more than two goals ahead both at the break – when they led 2-0 – and by the end.
They visit Blackburn Rovers on Wednesday and the Huddersfield-born player, who helped them earn promotion, admitted: “There’s been a mixture of frustration and just some abject performances where we’ve just not been anywhere near ourselves.
“It’s been a mixed bag but we played well today and, hopefully, this is a kick-start we needed.
“Hopefully, we’ve got a run of games now where we can start collecting some points and climbing the table as we don’t want to be in a relegation scrap all season.
“We want to push on and we have the capabilities to do that.
“If you want to do anything in any league you have to win back-to-back and we’ve not been able to do that yet so, hopefully, we start now.
“We’ve competed with the big boys already in this league. It’s been games like Coventry where we’ve slipped up.
“We’ve had a bad run of results. We had a couple of good home performances against top teams but didn’t get the points so it’s nice to play well as a team and actually get points on the board.”
Dan Barlaser’s wonderfully flighted free-kick gave Crooks the chance to power home his header, his first goal since scoring the winner in their last victory against Preston North End on November 7.
Barlaser’s passing quality was evident throughout but the energetic Matt Olosunde was also a constant threat, causing Bristol plenty of problems on the right.
He should have earned a penalty after being tripped by Tommy Rowe on one surge into the area.
That was waved away but it was the USA international’s excellent cross that saw Michael Smith turn in Rotherham’s second goal in the 41st minute.
It was just the striker’s second goal in 17 games this term but he led the line brilliantly and thoroughly deserved his breakthrough.
Earlier, Chris Martin thought he had equalised but his effort was ruled out because the ball had already gone out of play.
City made a double change at the break but it did little to put Rotherham out of their stride and they were only threatened once when Viktor Johansson made a fine save from Famara Diedhiou.
On his own display, former Rangers player Crooks said: “The first half, I thought I was all right.
“But the second half I felt I was a bit in and out. I was a bit annoyed by that. After that first half, I felt I could push on a bit more but I didn’t seem to do that.
“It might be my concentration sometimes. I’m not sure.”
That is something he can improve on just like, encouragingly, there is improvement to come still throughout Warne’s side.
As for the manager himself, he allowed first-team coach Matt Hamshaw to take the post-match press conference duties.
“I’ve just seen him have a little sip of red wine downstairs which is unheard of for him!” said Hamshaw.
“So, obviously, he’s not feeling the pressure any more. But he should not feel pressure. It’s easy for me to say as I’m part of his backroom staff. But the job he’s done at this football club over the last four years has been remarkable.”