Rotherham United players can go home and lick their wounds or man up

For all Rotherham United’s endeavour, for all the chances they created, for all the unease they caused in the Reading backline as the game wore on, there was an inescapable truth about Saturday’s proceedings.

No way: Rotherham's Freddie Ladapo has a shot blocked by Liam Moore. Pictures: Dean Atkins

Namely that the Millers lack depth and they lack quality, and if they are to survive for another season in the Championship, it will be down to the sheer willpower of the men left standing.

“Warriors,” was how Paul Warne described the type of character he needs to extricate Rotherham from the hole that has been dug.

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To say it is of their own making would be harsh. Rotherham have a League One budget for a division that comprises a good number of clubs that have been in the Premier League.

Route barred: Rotherham's Michael Smith is stopped by a strong Reading defence.

To therefore lay the blame at the feet of chairman Tony Stewart would equally be misplaced, given there is no income coming in on match-days in this strangest of seasons.

Why mortgage the club’s future by spending big in January when Warne has proven at times during the season that he can keep Rotherham out of the bottom three and be competitive?

But he could have done with a little more help, a little roll of the dice in the provision of a few more extra bodies.

Lewis Wing and Ryan Giles came in on loan in January but no-one else, and when you have a mounting injury list and a suspension here and there, things soon become stretched, a fact magnified in the pandemic by bigger subsitute benches.

Championship clubs can now name nine subs, something Reading could comfortably do while Rotherham could name just seven.

When Clark Robertson pulled his hamstring 15 minutes in, Warne only had one fit centre-half left standing in Angus MacDonald, forcing a change to the 3-5-2 formation he had started the game with.

“We had to change our shape which was a massive blow because you put a lot of work into how you’re going to play and how you’re going to break down the opposition,” lamented Warne.

Ten minutes later Reading scored the only goal, Michael Morrison bundling the ball home at the second attempt after Rotherham goalkeeper Viktor Johansson had saved his initial header from a cross from Omar Richards.

“It’s not easy when you lose someone to injury so early on,” said MacDonald, who saw Wes Harding move alongside him in a reshuffled four-man rearguard.

“Credit to Wes, he was playing out of position and I thought he did really well.”

Rotherham had 17 shots at goal but only one of those was on target. Freddie Ladapo saw one header land on the roof of the net and another effort hit the back row of the Mears Stand.

Michael Smith – whose head was the target of many a direct ball forward – also had a couple of chances, with Rotherham carrying most threat from set-plays.

“Peculiar,” was Reading manager’s Vejlkjo Paunovic’s description of Rotherham’s style of play, not that he meant to sound so derogatory in his broken English.

Only when Kieran Sadlier stepped off the bench and onto the left wing did Rotherham consistently cause Reading problems in open play.

The closest they came was from Ben Wiles’s shot that took a wicked deflection off Morrison but went the wrong side of the post.

“I was waiting for it to hit the net,” said Warne, “but Lady Luck eluded us a little bit today.”

It means five defeats on the spin, all of them by a single goal. Rotherham were competitive, as they always are, they just lack the quality and composure in front of goal.

“If we weren’t creating chances that would be an even bigger problem,” offered Warne, who can at least take solace in the fact his side made play-off-chasing Reading look ordinary and low on confidence.

“We just need to take our chances and hopefully the points can come with it.”

The need is now urgent with 15 games left and a gap of five points to bridge to safety.

Next up is Sheffield Wednesday on Wednesday night; two teams desperate for the points in what has all the appeal of watching two bald men fighting over a comb.

“I don’t have all the answers,” said Warne. “I can only do what comes naturally to me, so I told the players where I think we went wrong but I also tried to pick them up: if you’re warriors you’ve got 15 games, we’ve trained hard for the whole season to stay up and play Championship football again next season, so you can either go home and feel sorry for yourself and lick your wounds or man up and think we’ve got 15 fights ahead of us to collect enough wins to stay up.”

Rotherham United: Johansson; Harding, A MacDonald, Robertson (Wiles 15); Olusunde, Crooks, S MacDonald (Clarke 65), Wing (Hirst 80), Giles (Sadlier 65); Ladapo (Jozefzoon 80), Smith. Unused substitutes: Blackman, Barlaser.

Reading: Cabral; Yiadom, Morrison, Moore, Richards; Semedo, Laurent; Rinomhota (Esteves 86), Olise (Holmes 90), Ejaria (McIntyre 75); Joao. Unused substitutes: Southwood, Baldock, Aluko, Tetek, Puscas, Camara.

Referee: D Coote (Nottinghamshire).

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