Verdict, Rotherham United 1, Ipswich 0: Millers laying building blocks for survival

Rotherham's manager Paul Warne: Delighted with first Championship win.
Rotherham's manager Paul Warne: Delighted with first Championship win.
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AN unflagging work ethic, a fighter’s heart and a willingness to dig in for the team.

All of the above characteristics have served Rotherham United rather well during their previous successful Championship sojourns and the class of 2018-19 will need those qualities – and a fair bit more besides – if they are to keep their heads above water this season.

Two games in and the digging in process has already begun. For summer signing Kyle Vassell, it has always been the way.

A Millers debut in which his commitment was unstinting – whether it be up front or on the left – was duly recognised when he received a standing ovation shortly after strike partner Michael Smith’s late winner.

They like their workers in these parts and they have found another in Vassell.

Having played in non-league circles for the likes of Staines Town, Whitehawk and Bishop’s Stortford, Vassell has reached the Championship the hard way.

Others in red have also cut their teeth on the unheralded lower-league circuit and having grafted so hard to reach the second tier, they are not planning to give it away in a hurry.

Speaking after helping his team-mates chisel out a priceless win of psychological importance after a brutal first-day loss at Brentford, Vassell said: “First and foremost, it is about the team and working hard for your mates and colleagues and then, if you get a goal, that is a bonus.

“I do believe that is why the manager brought me here as I have that mentality and the team always comes first.

“I used to work and cannot say what I do now is a job. I have had to work very hard to get here and am not going to stop doing that.

“The trade I was learning was groundworks, which is the worst of the worst in the middle of winter. It is just literally getting buckets of water out of trenches.

“As a kid, my dad was a bricklayer and that is what I am really good at. If anyone wants any walls built, I can do it on a Sunday!”

Saturday was certainly the first building block for the Millers, even if the first-half distinctly lacked cheer on an afternoon when the club commemorated the life of Barry ‘Chuckle’ Elliott with a minute’s applause taking place before the game to honour the local comedian and also former Millers chairman Syd Wood following their recent passing.

Despite toiling early on, Rotherham hung in there, with Ipswich – in ex-Miller Paul Hurst’s first away match in charge – failing to go for the jugular despite territorial dominance for the vast majority of the first half.

A key smother from Marek Rodak denied Ellis Harrison and despite other scares, the hosts reached half-time unscathed – ahead of a second-half show of character as they attacked the North Stand with renewed vigour and intensity.

A low angled strike from Vassell, which was grasped by Bartosz Bialkowski, set the tone, with Smith soon firing a volley wide before Jon Nolan was inches away from firing the visitors in front with a long-range screamer.

United persisted, despite being indebted to a key parry from Rodak to keep out Gwion Edwards’s fine free-kick and the rewards came further down the line.

A sweet shot on the turn from Smith was not far away before Bialkowski showed alert reflexes to deny Anthony Forde. But the hosts were not to be denied.

Forde delivered an inviting free-kick on the left and with Ipswich’s defence dithering, Smith rifled the loose ball home to the delight of the Millers support, who included Paul Elliott, the other half of the Chuckle Brothers comedy double act.

The sight of both sets of fans chanting the duo’s catchphrase “to me, to you” on 73 minutes, in recognition of his late brother’s 73 years, represented a nice touch.

But there were no laughs for Ipswich at the end – and definitely not for Hurst, who lost out to his good mate Paul Warne yet again.

Given the late pressure, Hurst, part of a Millers line-up who liked nothing better than turning over established second-tier clubs during their time in the second tier in the early Noughties, will have inwardly suspected what might be coming.

By the final whistle, the ‘Warniola’ chants were doing the rounds as Ipswich – the opponents when the Millers last won a match at this level in April 2017 – were downed once again.

What a difference a week makes.

Warne, who kept faith with 10 players who started in the 5-1 battering at Brentford, said: “Me and Hursty are very close. In fairness, a part of him is a Rotherham fan, so if he is going to lose to anyone he would probably choose us.

“The scoreline is kind to us, I thought they had a couple of really good first-half chances and caused us no end of problems.

“But we will always be a threat, especially when we shoot towards that (North Stand) end. You always fancy something magical. It felt like a celebratory game anyway, with fans remembering the life of Barry Chuckle and the majority not seeing the team since Wembley. It was a sunny day, the first home game back in the Championship and it sort of added to everything.”

Rotherham United: Rodak; Vyner, Ajayi, Wood, Mattock; Taylor (Forde 67), Vaulks, Palmer, Newell (Williams 62); Smith, Vassell (Jones 90). Unused substitutes: Price, Raggett, Wiles, Ball.

Ipswich Town: Bialkowski; Donacien, Nsiala, Chambers, Knudsen; Skuse; Edwards (Roberts 82), Chalobah, Nolan, Ward (Edun 78); Harrison (Jackson 67). Unused substitutes: Gerken, Spence, Sears, Kenlock.

Referee: D Webb (Co Durham).