Leon Best only signed a fortnight ago but has had a huge influence already on 21-year-old protege Jonson Clarke-Harris.
Rotherham’s £350,000 record signing ended a goal drought stretching back to mid-September and, along with manager Neil Redfearn, paid credit to the former Republic of Ireland forward, who was banned after his debut day dismissal at Elland Road the previous week.
Redfearn signed free agent Best, 29, who is approaching 300 career appearances, many in the top flight, until the end of the season and said: “I definitely think Best has had an influence on Clarke-Harris – the fact that he’s got a ‘Mister’ up there who knows the ropes and has taken him under his wing.
“The kid’s got ability. He’s a beautiful build, he’s quick, powerful and I think if you stick him in front of goal he can finish.”
Clarke-Harris curled in a beauty in the ninth minute, cutting in from the right and bending the ball around a defender and inside Frank Fielding’s far post.
His second came when he smashed home a penalty in a style reminiscent to last season when he burst the ball with a free-kick against Leeds.
The spot-kick came after central defender Kirk Broadfoot, so staunch at the back, had been shoved to the ground by Bristol striker Jonathan Kodjia and helped provide the buffer which allowed the Millers to sit back and hit on the counter in the second half, with Clarke-Harris employed as the lone striker.
Captain Lee Frecklington wrapped up the points in the 75th minute, sweeping the ball home after Danny Ward laid the ball back following a poor attempt by Luke Ayling to head clear from Grant Ward’s cross.
Having made it five for the season, Clarke-Harris, a far happier figure under Redfearn than previous manager Steve Evans, said: “It’s an absolute massive win for us as it gives us back-to-back victories. It’s three points on the table and a win we can build on.”
On Best’s influence, he continued: “I have to agree with the manager 100 per cent. He’s been there, done that and played at the highest level. He’s played in the Premier so I want to follow in his footsteps. I try and do the things that he’s doing. I ask him how his lifestyle is and he tells me. He’s a similar player to myself but just a lot more experienced.
“I can also learn off the other pros like Danny Ward and Darbs (Matt Derbyshire) – absolutely everyone here. This time last year I wasn’t the player you saw (Saturday) so it’s a big improvement for me.”
Danny Ward joined him up front in the first half in Best’s absence and Clarke-Harris admitted: “I definitely prefer playing with a partner but we were 2-0 up and had a solid shape and got the third so we didn’t need to push on any more.
“We had a solid base at the back, the midfield was solid and I knew what I had to do up front – control the back three.
“It definitely was not an easy win but we worked harder and outplayed them. We were on the back foot for about 15 minutes in the second half and Campy had made a great save in the first half so just imagine what would have happened had that gone in.”
Though Rotherham failed to win any of their first six games under Redfearn, Clarke-Harris believes he is the man to lead them to safety.
“A lot of things have changed since he came in and we are a lot happier which you can see when we play.
“The boys are buzzing, we have got confidence now and training every day is class. It’s getting better and better and I’m absolutely confident we can get out of the bottom three. If we keep winning our home games that will be the most important thing to us.
“It’s great that the manager can trust me at 21 to go out there and do a job. It’s a great feeling. As you can see, the manager has not started me in only one game and that was because he said I needed a rest.
“I am starting to pay him back with goals. The gaffer has kept telling me to ‘shoot, shoot’, but I thought the first (goal) was going wide but it crept in. For the second, I grabbed the ball and completely zoned out, didn’t let any of my team-mates talk to me and just smashed it as hard as I could.”
Victory moved next-to-bottom Rotherham to within a point of Bristol City and they are just four shy of 17th-placed Leeds.
Redfearn, however, knows there is a lot of hard work ahead.
Praising Danny Collins for the job he did deputising for injured left-back Joe Mattock, and after losing central defender Stephen Kelly to a calf strain, he said: “I thought for 10 to 15 minutes we looked a bit shaky but I thought after Jonson’s first goal that we really settled into it and they always looked under pressure.
“It’s a couple of wins but it’s a long old season. I didn’t get too down when it wasn’t so good and I don’t want to get carried away now. The nature of the Championship is that it’s a tough division.
“Now, when games are tight and there isn’t much in them, like at Leeds, we look mentally tough.”
Rotherham United: Camp, Buxton, Kelly (Rawson 44), Broadfoot, Collins; G Ward, Frecklington (Barker 86), Smallwood, Newell (Hyam 82); Clarke-Harris, D Ward. Unused substitutes: Collin, Derbyshire, Toffolo, Yates.
Bristol City: Fielding, Ayling, Flint, Baker (Moore 46); Bennett, Smith, Freeman, Pack, Williams; Kodjia (Cox 68), Agard (Wilbraham 58). Unused substitutes: O’Leary, Little, Reid, Bryan.
Referee: T Robinson (West Sussex).