Rotherham United 0 Coventry City 1 - Millers run out of steam

THE latest chapter of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s re-opening of society took place on Monday.

Opening up of a different variety was at the forefront of Rotherham United players’ minds three days on.

Namely opening up the fight to avoid relegation at a critical juncture in the Millers’ campaign and dragging others just above the drop zone headfirst towards the maelstrom again with not long to go.

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The psychological impact of this night simply could not be downplayed. Victory would have seen Rotherham swap places with their opponents and moved them out of the bottom three – and also made the likes of Huddersfield Town, Derby County, Birmingham City and Blackburn Rovers feel decidedly queasy.

Rotherham's Viktor Johansson saves from Coventry's Callum O'Hare. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

Instead, they will all be breathing a touch easier and it is the Millers who were the ones with a sickly disposition at the final whistle after this bitter defeat.

The talk ahead of the game centred on this six-pointer being a ‘must-win’ one for the hosts. Other observers seasoned in the Championship would have bracketed it as a ‘must-not-lose’ fixture.

In a game which pitted the side with the worst home record in the division against the team with the poorest form on the road, it was Coventry who produced a superbly well-executed game plan.

Heroics in the first half from a Swede in Millers keeper Viktor Johansson prevented Coventry from gaining a precious advantage with three blinding first-half saves.

Rotherham's Matt Crooks heads towards goal. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

In the event, it was a Norwegian in Leo Ostigard who stole the show, heading home a free-kick from Matty James 20 minutes from time to settle this contest as the Sky Blues moved six points clear of the hosts.

It was a night when Rotherham barely threatened. They looked like a side playing their third game in six days.

Partway through their ‘week of death’ as Paul Warne put it, there was no kiss of life at the bottom here.

The Millers chief has regularly spoken about how a Wednesday-to-Saturday turnaround in Championship games is tough on a high-energy side like Rotherham, who expend a colossal amount of energy in games in order to compete against sides blessed with many more advantages.

Playing two games in 48 hours against a side who had three extra days of rest compared to them makes it even harder.

After Tuesday’s exhilarating win over QPR, the Millers were running on empty. The two big players up top in Matt Crooks and Michael Smith – who scored two goals apiece in their side’s 4-0 home win over Coventry last season – barely had a sniff.

Part of a Rotherham line-up who regularly made life difficult for opponents across the dual carriageway in their former Millmoor home, Coventry chief Mark Robins will have preached the importance of setting about a Millers side from the off.

His instructions were carried out to the letter and only the presence of Johansson in goal prevented Robins’s Sky Blues side from taking in an unassailable first-half buffer at the interval.

Less than a minute in, the keeper was on the money to tip a technically-perfect 25-yard volley onto the bar from Coventry captain Liam Kelly and before the Millers had found their feet, the keeper kept the hosts in it again.

A Kelly volley ricocheted into the area and sky blue jerseys seized on the loose ball, but fortunately Johansson stood tall and stayed alert to deny Callum O’Hare from point-blank range and Matt Gooden ballooned the rebound over.

Showing a discernible appetite for the fight, Coventry players were first to most things and another wonderful Johansson save thwarted Tyler Walker’s far-post header.

It made for anxious viewing for Warne and his assistant Richie Barker, who helped themselves to a coffee while they watched the first-half action unfold. In truth, it was their players who needed perking up.

The Millers’ best moment by some way saw an opportunistic strike from Lewis Wing – a player with a penchant for long-distance goals in his time at Middlesbrough – strike the post with an angled drive midway through the first-half, but it was not the stimulant to a significant upturn.

Given what they endured for most of the first period, the fact that the scores were level should have revived the Millers at the interval and – not usually one to miss a trick – Warne will have probably reminded his players of that very fact.

The onus was on Coventry to sustain their intensity, while pragmatic Rotherham will have still harboured hopes of nicking a priceless win on a far from straightforward evening and hanging in there.

Unfortunately, the visitors stuck to their game plan and Rotherham’s changes did not reap a harvest. It was Coventry’s night, deservedly, thanks to Ostigard.

Rotherham United: Johansson; Olosunde (Giles 60), Ihiekwe (Sadlier 88), Wood, A MacDonald, Harding (Robertson 77); Lindsay (Ogbene 77), Wing, Wiles (Ladapo 60); Crooks, Smith. Substitutes unused: Blackman, S MacDonald, Hirst, Barlaser.

Coventry City: Wilson; Dacosta, Ostigard, McFadzean, Hyam, McCallum; James, Kelly, O’Hare (Hamer 77); Godden (Gyokeres 72), Walker (Biamou 72). Substitutes unused: Marosi, Rose, Eccles, Allen, Shipley, Bakayoko.

Referee: J Gillett (Australia).