THE DRINK of choice was Champagne after Rotherham United’s feted home victory over Brentford to clinch promotion on a heady, unforgettable Spring afternoon in April 2001.
The beverage on offer on a raw winter’s day on Saturday was coffee and its pungent aroma was discernible throughout a sobering occasion.
The Millers – whose squad’s market value was reportedly set at £6.44m in figures revealed last week – are taking on the rest of their Championship rivals with the equivalent of one arm tied behind their backs.
Rich in spirit, competitiveness and energy they may be, but in the unforgiving second-tier, such qualities can only take you so far.
Competing against a club – a traditionally comparable one at that – whose squad’s own market value was registered at £46.22m, the chasm in class was a yawning one on the second-half evidence.
It exposed just what the Millers are up against this season as they suffered at the hands of a Brentford side whose game changers all came to the party once again after inflicting a 5-1 first-day humbling upon Paul Warne’s side.
That United still find themselves out of bottom three is laudable. Anyone who begged to differ could have done worse than listen to Brentford head coach Thomas Frank after the match.
Unprovoked and before being asked any questions on the game, the Dane complimented his team’s opponent and opposite number for their achievement so far in keeping out of the relegation zone, despite having the lowest budget in the Championship.
It was a moment of class – in keeping with his side’s stylish efforts on the pitch.
Rather less endearing was the reaction of a section of Millers supporters who ironically cheered when loan full-back Zac Vyner – a young defender still making his way in the game – was substituted in the second half.
We speak to all the managers after games and they appreciate that the gulf between League One and this division is a massive gulf.Paul Warne
A club and set of supporters who need to stay together on and off the pitch if they are to retain their Championship status this season – which would be a remarkable feat – it was a moment which will have hurt many fans and most definitely Warne.
On the treatment of Vyner, the Millers chief said: “It is disgusting. I do not understand it. Fans possibly see games differently to me. It summed it up when Zak came off that all the coaches went to thank him for his efforts.
“I did not take him off because he was having a stinker in my eyes. I took him off because I went three at the back. I have done that loads of times this season. You could see Will Vaulks clapping him and saying: ‘Zak, well done.’ He put loads of crosses in.
“It is disappointing for me. Zak has been great for us and I do not think any player should be singled out for abuse.”
On support for what he is up against from his opposing number, Warne added: “Everyone in football knows the challenge we have, but we’ve taken it on every week with a smile on our face and tried to be the best we can be. The lads give everything.
“We speak to all the managers after games and they appreciate that the gulf between League One and this division is a massive gulf. Realistically, my team is virtually the same as last year.”
The early signs were ominous for the hosts on Saturday. An instinctive, rapier-like move orchestrated by Rico Henry and Said Benrahma – who both had afternoons to savour – undressed the Millers and it was left to Kamohelo Mokotjo to coolly tuck away a second-minute opener.
It was to the Millers’ credit that they overcame a rough start to impose their own will upon the visitors and it really should have seen them lead at the break.
Jon Taylor’s leveller, a super strike after Anthony Forde’s corner was not cleared – was a head-turning one and the winger was inches away from a second following Vyner’s sweet centre.
The hosts continued to press with Ajayi somehow missing from a few yards out after Daniel Bentley’s instinctive reaction save to keep out Clark Robertson’s point-blank header – and it proved a fateful moment.
On the resumption, the quality of Brentford – swift in thought and movement with poise on the ball – wore the Millers down, while Michael Smith ploughed the loneliest of furrows on his own up front at the other end.
A clever effort which flew just wide from the Bees’ top-scorer Neal Maupay signalled Brentford’s intent before a superb move was started and clinically finished by the buoyant Benrahma, with Ollie Watkins and Romaine Sawyers also involved.
Once more, the Millers’ character was unquenchable and they hauled themselves back up again when a cross from Richie Towell was met with a glancing header from Robertson, which went in off Bees defender Ezri Konsa.
This time, Brentford did not panic and the marauding Henry soon set up Mokotjo for another unerring low finish and this time, there was no home fightback.
Maupay chipped over before having his moment after the increasingly besieged hosts were opened up again as the Bees bagged their first league away win since April with a hint of swagger.
Rotherham United: Rodak, Vyner (Yates 78), Ajayi, Robertson, Mattock, Vaulks, Forde (Vassell 86),Towell, Wiles (Crooks 59), Taylor, Smith. Unused substitutes: Wood, Price, Raggett, Jones.
Brentford: Bentley, Konsa, Jeanvier, Barbet, Dalsgaard, Sawyers, Mokotjo (Da Silva 88), Henry, Watkins (Ogbene 88), Maupay, Benrahma (Canos 76).
Unused substitutes: Odubajo, McEachran, Daniels, Sorensen.
Referee: Tony Harrington (Cleveland).