Richard Wood freely admits “my face didn’t fit” under Alan Stubbs at Rotherham United.
The 31-year-old centre-back was frozen out under Stubbs after the first week of the season – the Millers conceded seven goals against Wolves and Aston Villa – as Rotherham slumped to the bottom of the Championship.
When Stubbs was axed last week, Rotherham had conceded 32 goals in 13 games, the worst defence in the Football League.
But the arrival on Friday of new boss Kenny Jackett has handed Wood, the former Sheffield Wednesday defender, a chance to resurrect his career at Rotherham.
He was given his first start since August 13, and won man-of-the-match honours despite defeat to Reading following a cruel late goal from Paul McShane.
It was tough on the Millers, who had shown a gritty defence – missing under Stubbs – and only failed to score due to a stunning display from Royals goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi.
Wood believes they delivered a performance which merited reward, and reckons the pragmatic Jackett can emulate what Neil Warnock did last season and lead Rotherham to safety.
“It was very frustrating,” said Wood. “In my first game back, I wanted a clean sheet because we have struggled for most of the season, conceding a lot of goals.
“I thought we deserved a draw with the amount of chances we created. It was really disappointing to concede, so close to the end as well.
“It’s been good (under Jackett), very positive. He just wants us to get back to how Rotherham have been over the last couple of years, showing a lot of passion, being hard to beat, making this a horrible place to come and intimidating for opposition teams. He has been very direct with us, up front, and that’s good for us.
“We have created chances, done well, the crowd got behind us, and that’s how we have got to be. We are bottom of the league, at the moment, and we need to grind results out.
“I am sure if we keep playing like that, results will come.
“We haven’t got the budgets like teams at the top of the league, we realise who we are. We have to work hard, have a bit of passion, and grind out results. That’s where we are at the moment.
“We are disappointed about today, but we have to remain positive, there’s more than enough time to recover. Last season, we went on the 11-game run, and left it to that point to sort ourselves out but we have 30-odd games to go now. Time is on our side and we can definitely do it if we carry on with that sort of performance and commitment.
“Yes, we are bottom of the league, but we can only go up.”
The Millers should have been in front after 20 minutes.
Al-Habsi clawed away a curling effort from Joe Newell, before tipping wide a rasping drive from Jon Taylor, and Greg Halford saw his header scrambled clear. The Reading goalkeeper saved his best for the second half, when somehow diverting Wood’s close-range header away from goal following Halford’s long throw, before racing out to deny Danny Ward in a one-on-one.
Reading enjoyed plenty of possession, and should have taken the lead when Dael Fry conceded a penalty when he brought down Joey Van den Berg.
But Millers goalkeeper Lee Camp guessed the right way to save Garath McCleary’s penalty.
Yann Kermogant twice fired wide and John Swift was denied by the crossbar before the visitors finally broke Rotherham’s resistance. Camp did well to save from Roy Beerens but McShane was lurking at the far post to volley home the loose ball.
It was Al-Habsi who had the final word, thwarting substitute Anthony Forde with a one-handed save to extend Rotherham’s losing run to seven games.
Wood struggled with cramp for the last 30 minutes, but he was just relieved to be back playing again after being exiled under Stubbs.
“It’s been hard, personally, for the last few months but a change of manager means inevitable changes and, luckily for me, I am back in,” he said. “I just want to keep hold of that place now, and, hopefully, I will do after that performance.
“I am disappointed we didn’t get the clean sheet, but I am just happy to get through the game.
“It’s been very tough (out of the team), not a nice thing. I have had quite a lot of days off when the team has travelled away, we haven’t got the staff and players for me to be doing fitness work.
“I have been on my own really and it’s been hard. I have had to stay positive and wait for my chance, and that’s come about through a change of manager.
“I have taken it, and need to keep up that level of performance to stay in.
“It was just a difference of opinion, I am not his type of player.
“My face didn’t fit and that was never going to change. I couldn’t do anything, I stayed professional and didn’t sulk, got on with my training. That’s how it is sometimes, it happens in football.
“I am not bitter, you can only play 11 players, so there is always going to be players missing out.”