Saturday, 3.40pm, and Rotherham United are turning on the style.
Midfielder Daniel Barlaser shows good footwork to get out of a tight spot, then measures a lovely ball for Matt Crooks to run onto.
A second goal would have been great but we can save them for another home game, I suppose.Paul Warne
Around 30 yards from goal, he takes the ball past goalkeeper Dimitar Evtimov before being tripped. So far from goal, and with defenders around, the goalkeeper rightly only receives a yellow card, but it is clear relegation-threatened Accrington Stanley are walking on thin ice.
With right-winger Chiedozie Ogbene’s pace a constant threat, it feels like a matter of time before the Millers add to Carlton Morris’s headed goal and secure a much-needed League One win at the New York Stadium. Stanley have not had a single shot on target.
An hour and 10 minutes later, Rotherham are breathing a huge sigh of relief.
Down to 10 men after two second-half yellow cards for Ogbene – the first for a shirt pull, the second a dive – Michael Ihiekwe has just made a vital block, then watched on as Dion Charles somehow failed to put the bouncing ball into the net for the equaliser Stanley had been pushing so hard for since the interval. It never came.
Through a combination of grit and good fortune, the Millers are in the League One play-off places for the first time this season, with a game in hand on the three teams directly above.
It feels like where they ought to be, and if they have managed to get there without yet hitting top gear – especially at home – there is reason for optimism about this reshaped team.
“It just would have been nicer for my heart rate if we had got the second goal because wins at home have been a bit more elusive this season than most people would anticipate – although, in fairness, we have been outplayed by teams who are very good, so it’s not always that we haven’t played well, ” reflected manager Paul Warne after the 1-0 win.
“If we had got the second goal, it would have allowed us to play with a bit more freedom in the second half. It did feel tense in the stadium – certainly it did to me – because everyone’s desperate for that win.
“There were a couple of moments where I was just waiting for the net to ripple, a couple of bounces in the six-yard box. A second goal would have been great but we can save them for another home game, I suppose.”
Warne was reserved in his assessment of his side’s first-half performance, dwelling more on the concession of cheap set-pieces than the many problems Ogbene’s pace caused and the excellence Barlaser and others showed in tight areas as they grew in confidence during the first half.
Ogbene’s burst down the left won the foul which put Callum Johnson’s name in Darren Handley’s notebook and on the right he earned the free-kick Ben Wiles put onto Morris’s head,
For much of the second half, it looked like the Millers might pay for not scoring more. Evtimov had made a good save from Morris after 34 seconds, and he, Crooks, Ogbene and Michael Smith all passed up later chances.
Accrington came out early after the interval a different side, and not only because Sean McConville came off the bench. Sam Finley pulled the strings and had a number of powerful efforts just off target. McConville headed wide and put a free-kick into the wall, and he and Joe Maguire shot narrowly wide late on.
Accrington deserved a point, but good teams win points they do not merit.
If there was one thing Rotherham need to learn, it is to stay on their feet. Crooks might have scored if only he had shown more desire to instead of allowing Evtimov to bring him down.
Ogbene was earning points tracking back in the 82nd minute but for a man on a booking, hurdling a tackle that was not forthcoming and throwing himself to the ground was far from smart.
“Sometimes the opposition don’t stay on their feet and win free-kicks, ” argued Warne. “If he has gone to ground too easily, he’s going to get punished but if you’re going to do it for that you have to do it for every one where people have dived.
“There was loads of play where he (Handley) said, ‘That’s not a foul, get up.’ If you set that precedent (of Ogbene’s yellow card), you’ve got to follow it through.
“We’ll go through everything with the lads meticulously. If I watch that back and Chieo’s made the wrong decision he’ll learn from it himself because he’s a very intelligent lad and he’s ruled himself out of the team for MK Dons.
“If the next person comes in and does well, he’ll have to sit and watch until he doesn’t.”
The Millers, then, still have things to learn. Sixth is a nice place to learn from.
Rotherham United: Iversen, Olosunde, Ihiekwe, Robertson, Jones, Wiles; Barlaser, Crooks (Lindsay 77), Ogbene, Smith (Ladapo 76); Morris (Thompson 88). Unused substitutes: Vassell, Price, Clarke, Hastie.
Accrington Stanley: Evtimov, Johnson, Sykes, Rodgers; Maguire (Carvalho 89), Clark, Conneely, Barclay (Bishop 77), Finley; Pritchard (McConville 46), Charles. Unused substitutes: Edwards, Zanzala, Savin, Diallo.
Referee: D Handley (Lancashire).