It has not been an easy start to life at Neil Redfearn at Rotherham United, and while a downpour had given way to sun by the time kick-off rolled around, there’s something to be said about the adage that when it rains, it pours.
Ipswich Town have not been the same side they were last season, a promotion push giving way to a spot in mid-table. The visit of Mick McCarthy’s side may have been identified as a more winnable game after the tough trips to Derby County and Middlesbrough in Rotherham’s last two.
Fans of the Millers will have left the stadium rueing Daryl Murphy’s sudden return to form on Saturday, but the damage was done well before he scribbled his name on the scoresheet three times.
Rotherham had not kept a clean sheet since Steve Evans left the club, and the early signs were not promising for United, a defensive mix-up on the edge of the area in the first minute gave Freddie Sears a clear run on goal, but the trailing leg of Lee Camp managed to push the ball wide. Sears should have scored.
With the pressure already on after only seven minutes and the crowd openly booing their own team, the Millers were the architects of their own downfall. Paul Green dithered before playing a loose ball in his own area. Rotherham failed to clear, the ball reaching Town winger Kevin Bru on the right-hand side. His whipped cross was then met perfectly by Brett Pitman in the air, who flicked it into the bottom corner with his head. Lee Camp, diving, had no chance.
Matt Derbyshire was presented with Rotherham’s first real opportunity of the game, free at the near post. Hitting it with the outside of his right boot was probably a mistake, as it gave the defender an opportunity to deflected the shot wide.
From the resultant corner, a long clearance was just about dealt with by Camp. However, the experienced Green once again dallied on the ball in the middle of the park and was dispossessed by Jonathan Douglas. Douglas advanced on goal before firing a sweet effort from range into the same corner as Pitman had 15 minutes prior. Two goals behind, United looked shellshocked.
Camp made his first stop just before the break, tipping over a first-time half-volley from Pitman. It counted for nothing from the resultant corner. The ball broke to Murphy in the area, and last season’s goalscoring hero finally bagged his first of the campaign, rifling the ball home with his left boot.
The scoreline could have got worse for Rotherham before the break, Murphy latching onto a lofted ball but only striking the bar from a tight angle. The ball then dropped for Sears, his volleyed effort flying over.
Half-time brought two changes for United, including the replacement of the poor Green, but little seemed to have changed on the park. Only minutes after the restart, Murphy had latched on to a clearing header from the back after Rotherham’s defence fell asleep. All it took was one look up for Murphy, who fired into the back of the net with his left. From zero goals to two in under an hour, Murphy was enjoying his day out in South Yorkshire, the predatory instinct back in full force.
Then, a sudden glimmer of hope for the Millers. 19-year-old Manchester City loanee Brandon Barker picked up the ball on the left, cut inside onto his right and curled a perfect shot past Dean Gerken and into the top corner. It was the first moment of any real quality from Rotherham, the sort of strike no goalkeeper in the world could save.
Redfearn’s side had their tails up, and when Matt Derbyshire sprang the offside trap, there seemed to be only one conclusion. Derbyshire’s volley flew past Gerken, and having been absent for the entire afternoon, the game was back on.
Sadly for Rotherham, the game settled down when an upkeep of their momentum was required. There were very few opportunities for either side before Murphy pounced on a ball that trickled across the area, firing home to seal his hat-trick, the first Ipswich have scored since 2007. With less than 20 minutes to play, it sealed the tie, killing the Millers’s fightback.
Rotherham are now without a win in seven, at the bottom of the table, and fighting for their Championship lives. Redfearn will have to hope he can turn it around soon, or relegation seems a certainty.
Redfearn was bitterly disappointed with how his side played.
“It started in the first minute, really tentative, nervous, I don’t understand why we needed to play like that,” he said.
“We have been to Middlesbrough where you have got a reason to be nervous against a top side and defended well.
“We were really negative in midfield, we didn’t get close to them, we didn’t work hard enough, we didn’t do the ugly stuff well.
“It must have been the 35th minute before we had a centre-half win a header, Murphy had his own way too much, but we just looked like we were going to concede.
“The biggest thing for me is the bare minimum the supporters can expect is the effort, the endeavour and whoever comes to play is in a game.
“If we’re a little bit short and they’re better then you can’t get round that. But the goals are so easy, Ipswich haven’t had to work hard for their goals.”