At this point in the season, with the transfer window still open (at least for clubs with an under-utilised budget) drawing conclusions is fraught with difficulty, as squads let alone first XIs are still evolving.
Notwithstanding, a visit to Rotherham United’s New York Stadium at this juncture really has to be seen as an opportunity to collect a first away win and remain 100% after three competitive fixtures (yes, I’m treating the Carabao Cup as a competitive fixture in this context).
Rovers however, in recent seasons, handle an excursion to Rotherham with all the calm competence and reassurance of a trainee zookeeper on their first day, who has just realised that the cage door to the tiger enclosure is open and the sounds of nearby screaming can be heard.
It’s worth Rovers fans buying tickets for this fixture, simply for the perverse joy of watching how they can muck it up given the nature of performances in the last five encounters there…
Proceedings started off with a display of pure JDTball as Rovers tried to pass Rotherham to death shifting the ball sideways, down the channels and probing the space. All very calm and considered, right up until possession was squandered and Rotherham in two passes moved the ball into Rovers penalty area and created a chance. This pattern continued, Hyam and Carter looking vulnerable each time the high ball was played, Rovers playing 3D chess to United’s draughts.
One penetrative Rovers attack saw a swarm of highlighter-pen shirts descend on Rotherham’s goal only for Rankin-Costello to be fouled and a penalty awarded by referee Madley who throughout the day would increasingly endear himself to the locals.
No Diaz these days of course, so Sammie Szmodics took the ball, watched the keeper commit himself then rolled the spot kick agonisingly against the right-hand upright with the rebound volleyed wide by Dolan to compound the misfortune.
That set the tone for the rest of the half; Rotherham emboldened, Rovers edgy and lacking composure. For Szmodics though things would get worse, a suicidal attempt at the sort of cross-field pass at the edge of your own penalty area that would make the manager of an under 13s team roll their eyes led to the opening goal.
After almost an hour, Rovers hadn’t yet fashioned a shot on target, were two goals down and thanks to the new refereeing diktats now faced ten-man opposition as Onyedinmi waved an imaginary yellow at Madley and collected one himself leading to a red.
Enter Szmodics v2.0; a heavy deflected shot finally breaching the Millers’ defence and just three minutes later a lovely passing move featuring silky skills from Ennis generated the equaliser. The redemption arc would have been complete with a winner but sadly that wouldn’t materialise. Excellent efforts from Pickering in particular and an offside effort rightfully chalked off were the closest Rovers would come.
The final seconds though illustrated perfectly just what it’s like to support this Rovers incarnation. A corner kick, the centre backs up, Gallagher hovering near the keeper, one last chance as the referee looks intently at his watch.
You guessed it…a short-corner routine, three short passes leading to nothing. Full-time whistle blows. Oh Rovers…how you still manage to amaze me.