Paul Warne may have new wheels, but the survival bandwagon he had set rolling as Rotherham United’s caretaker manager came to a shuddering halt on a night of bitter cold and disappointment at New York Stadium.
Warne has been given a smart club car to mark his elevation from fitness coach to interim boss a month ago.
Against fellow strugglers Burton Albion, however, his Millers side failed to hit top gear. They passed up on the chance of a third home victory on the trot since the 43-year-old took the hot-seat and fell to a defeat that severely dents hopes of an unlikely push for Championship safety which had been faintly stirring under the new man.
Burton, who arrived in 21st place and without a victory on their travels, launched a smash-and-grab raid in five first-half minutes to steal the points.
Rotherham lost the game they couldn’t afford to lose and the gap between the division’s bottom club and a place out of the relegation places is up to 10 points.
“The lads are devastated,” Warne said. “I don’t think we are relegated yet. If I thought that, I would tell the chairman to get a new caretaker in.”
The Millers were full of attacking intent early on, fashioning several clear-cut chances to score, with Joe Newell twice going close, Izzy Brown scuffing his shot with only goalkeeper Jon Mclaughlin to beat and Danny Ward’s free-kick pile-driver being beaten away by McLaughlin.
But Chris O’Grady was on hand to prod the visitors ahead against the run of play when keeper Lewis Price failed to deal with Lloyd Dyer’s low shot in the 36th minute and Jackson Irvine powered in a second with a superb header from John Brayford’s cross five minutes later.
Tom Adeyemi had hooked Richard Wood’s header from Newell’s free-kick into the net on the stroke of half-time to reduce the arrears, but, against a team defending in numbers and well versed in the art of time-wasting, Rotherham couldn’t find a way through after the break.
Anthony Forde and Ward missed opportunities early in the second half, Izzy Brown fired wide and Darnell Fisher couldn’t hit the target at the far post.
Then substitute Peter Odemwingie shot straight at McLaughlin and, with 12 minutes remaining, Brown flashed another effort wide.
“There are only so many chances you can afford to miss at this level,” Warne added. “If you don’t score, you’re snookered.”
Driving home in his company vehicle, he will know better than anybody that this setback was more than just a bump in the road.
Rotherham United (4-4-1-1): Price; Fisher, Wood, Belaid, Mattock (Blackstock 85); Forde (Odemwingie 66), Adeyemi (Halford 79), Frecklington, Newell; Brown; Ward. Subs not used: Bilboe, Kelly, Broadfoot, Taylor.
Burton Albion (3-5-2): McLaughlin; Mousinho, McFadzean, Tom Naylor; Brayford (Flanagan H-T), McCrory, Palmer (Barker 90+1), Irvine, Dyer; Akins, O’Grady (Harness 70). Subs not used: Bywater, Williamson, Beavon, Ward.
Goals: O’Grady 36, Irvine 41 (Burton); Adeyemi 45+4 (Rotherham).
Referee: Tony Harrington (Cleveland).
Attendance: 9,806 (775).