OFFERING his take on the appointment of Marcelo Bielsa in the summer, former Leeds and Rotherham manager Steve Evans questioned whether the Argentine would be able to cope with ‘the New York Stadium at Rotherham on a Tuesday.’
Granted, this meeting may not have been staged in midweek, but this particular Saturday in Rotherham possessed a fair few nasty hazards for Bielsa to negotiate – suggesting Evans may have been onto something after all.
Rotherham’s parochial home felt a cold and biting place for the opening 45 minutes for Leeds and evoked memories of some torrid moments in this quarter of South Yorkshire as the in-your-face Millers held court.
But the sight of Leeds belatedly taking to their surroundings – aided by some rather accomodating behaviour from the hosts – ensured that all was well in their world again as the Whites’ latest ‘Rotherham experience’ ultimately proved joyous and continued their second-tier education.
It ensured that the post-mortem belonged to the Millers, left to pick up the pieces after two lamentable mistakes were punished in deadly, ruthless fashion.
Winning ugly is a prerequisite of every successful promotion claimant and Saturday’s events could yet prove to be the definitive moment in Leeds’s season.
It is also a truism that sides who trophy-gather in the Spring often raise a glass to the contributions of a goalscoring midfielder – who are invariably worth their weight in gold. From Kennedy to Keane, Gerrard to Wark.
Mateusz Klich’s sixth and seventh league goals of the season were consequential – and should Leeds achieve their cherished return to the Premier League, his contribution on one Saturday in Rotherham will be recalled.
With the Whites in need of inspiration after deservedly trailing 1-0 at the break, Klich stayed alert to cash in on defensive uncertainty between Marek Rodak and Clark Robertson and pick the pockets of the pair and level.
Everyone here is 100 per cent about survival and wanting to do well for the club and obviously all are grafting and working hard for each other. That will be massive in the run-in.Rotherham United’s Billy Jones
It changed the narrative of a game in which the Millers’ will had hitherto been imposed upon Leeds, who were staring down the barrel of a fourth loss in five matches in Rotherham.
It was Leeds who ultimately wore down those in red and the kill arrived when Jerry Yates failed to clear his lines – with Jack Harrison finding Klich in an instant to inflict the final act.
The wild celebrations of the visitors at the final whistle suggested this was no ordinary win.
Speaking after the game, Klich said: “You know how important it is! Obviously we had some problems in the aerial games and their (Rotherham’s) main force was that, so it was a difficult game.
“We did not play the best in the first half, but it only matters how you end the game and we won and got three points and we go home.”
On his first goals for Leeds since October, the Pole added: “I think maybe that start was even too good to be fair and that is why everybody expected me to score more than 10 goals in a season.
“But as I have said, I did not care about scoring goals, I wanted to win games for the team and if I score it is even better.”
Before the game, Millers chief Paul Warne had been gushing in his praise of Leeds; labelling them as a ‘phenomenal side’ and a ‘little Manchester City’ – while suggesting that his own team would have to be at their best and the visitors would have to be off-colour for the Millers to get something.
For the opening 45 minutes, that scenario transpired.
Rotherham neutered Leeds completely, so much so that the visitors’ much-vaunted blue-eyed boy in Jack Clarke was withdrawn at the interval after being seen off by the wily defensive duo of Joe Mattock and Billy Jones.
As game plans go, the Millers executed their plot to perfection – with a spectacular strike from Semi Ajayi being the bonus.
It was a half in which Rotherham smothered the visitors and denied them space and won countless battles – in a time-honoured fashion in these parts.
A moment from the sublime arrived when Ajayi, taking a brief break from policing Pablo Hernandez, was afforded time and space to unleash a ferocious 20-yarder which hurtled past debutant goalkeeper Kiko Casilla.
It was no more than the hosts merited, with Leeds’s only token effort seeing Rodak comfortably gather Harrison’s low shot.
Leeds, pepped up by the introduction of Tyler Roberts, required inspiration and got it thanks to the benevolence of Rodak and Robertson – and gradually squeezed Rotherham.
A rare moment of danger saw Casilla keep out Will Vaulks’s long-ranger, but most of the action was at the other end.
Kemar Roofe and Gianni Alioski had already spurned fine chances, but Klich did not blink.
It was a tough one to take for the Millers, but defender Jones insists the dressing room will stay strong in their survival quest, in comparison to his experiences at Sunderland last season.
He said: “Everyone takes responsibility and no-one is pointing fingers saying ‘it is him’. Everyone is in the dressing room saying: ‘I know I could have been better there, I will make sure I will do and it will not happen again’.
“That is what you want within a team as individuals and a squad. You want that togetherness and high demands of each other.
“There is obviously the (Sunderland) comparison and there were some individuals who were out for themselves a little.
“Everyone here is 100 per cent about survival and wanting to do well for the club and obviously all are grafting and working hard for each other. That will be massive in the run-in.”