Rotherham United match verdict and reaction: Leeds United 2 Millers 0

Aimen Belaid makes his debut. Pictures: Jim Brailsford
Aimen Belaid makes his debut. Pictures: Jim Brailsford

16,039.

No, not the number of times Rotherham United’s defence managed to catch Leeds United striker Souleymane Doukara offside.

Lee Camp is powerless as Mustapha Carayol's wonder-goal flies in

Lee Camp is powerless as Mustapha Carayol's wonder-goal flies in

It just seemed like that many.

This was the attendance at Elland Road, and it told you everything you needed to know about a flat, uninspiring, rain-lashed FA Cup third-round tie which came less than two months since this Yorkshire derby was played out in the league.

That clash in November attracted nearly 10,000 more spectators. The one before that, forever known as Sombrero Saturday, when then-Millers boss Steve Evans celebrated second-tier survival Mexican style last May at the club he now manages, drew a crowd of more than 30,000.

On Saturday, they didn’t even bother opening the South Stand, so the one moment of top-draw quality which settled the contest - loan debutant Mustapha Carayol’s stunning long-range thunderbolt - flew in on the stroke of half-time in front of massed ranks of empty seats.

Grant Ward up against Liam Cooper

Grant Ward up against Liam Cooper

And Millers manager Neil Redfearn, as keen to win as anybody at the club where he was head coach last season, took off key players Danny Ward and Grant Ward to save them for Tuesday’s Championship clash with Brighton rather than risk their health chasing the game.

Of course, the knockout competition is important. Yes, every side dreams of running out in the final at Wembley. But earning points in the Championship matters much, much more.

“In the grand scheme of things, Tuesday is more important,” Redfearn reflected. “We would have loved a cup run, we would have loved to beat Leeds, but if you look at it both sides probably were the same in their thinking when they made subs.

“We have got players who are really important to us, both Wards are important. We have to look after them because we are going to struggle to replace them.

Paul Green in possession

Paul Green in possession

“I was pleased with the performance. This is a difficult place to come to. They are on a roll and, fair play to Steve, they were at it, but I felt that we matched them.”

Defeat means it’s now 14 years since Rotherham’s name was in last in the fourth-round draw. You have to go back to the Millmoor days of 2001/2 and a 2-1 triumph over Southampton and Matt Le Tissier with goals from Richie Barker and John Mullin for that.

Hit by injuries, Redfearn’s makeshift men had managed to be the better side in the first half at Elland Road until they were undone by a familiar failing.

Leeds can now be added to a growing roll call of half-time Millers misery as they became the eighth team this season to score against Rotherham close to the interval after Nottingham Forest, QPR, Cardiff City, Derby County, Ipswich Town, Wolves and Fulham.

The Millers concede in the 90th minute

The Millers concede in the 90th minute

“It’s a lack of concentration, and it goes into the fact that when we’re on top - and we were, don’t let anyone tell you any different - we have got to score,” Redfearn said.

“We have to try to get our noses in front. If we go 1-0 up, it would have been a different Elland Road and we know that.”

In truth, on this occasion, there was little Rotherham could do to stop Middlebrough winger Carayol adding to the spectacular strike he produced against them while on loan at Huddersfield Town last month.

Minimum backlift, maximum effect as the ball flashed past goalkeeper Lee Camp from wide out on the left in a fashion even the Millers’ own power-shooter, Grant Ward, would have been proud of.

Joe Mattock was excellent again, and Richie Smallwood and Paul Green put in real shifts, but the big plus for Rotherham was the performance of centre-half Aimen Belaid, whose signing was announced only the day before the game.

Sadly, he was reduced to horrified onlooker in the 90th minute when right-back Frazer Richardson shepherded the ball back to Camp, waiting for his keeper to come out and avert any danger.

An embrace at the end between Neil Redfearn and Steve Evans

An embrace at the end between Neil Redfearn and Steve Evans

Doukara was onside for once and maybe Camp was paralysed by his and everyone else’s shock. He dithered and the Leeds man nipped in, forced the ball through his hands and tucked it into an empty net.

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“The ball was rolling back to goal and the goalkeeper was running on to it so it has got to be the keeper’s,” Redfearn said. “For me, he has got to clear the lot, ball, defender, striker, the whole lot.

“Listen, Lee has been fantastic for us, particularly recently. He has been one of our standout players, but those little mistakes are disappointing because it undoes some good work.”

It put a 2-0 gloss on what was really a scappy 1-0 encounter which Leeds, now unbeaten in eight matches, deserved to shade. Rotherham battled and grafted and were always in the game, but some promising attacks came to nothing once they reached the penalty area.

Green, Shay Facey, Emmanuel Ledesma, in his first appearance since Redfearn’s first match in charge, at Brentford in October, and Jonson Clarke-Harris all tried their luck, yet home keeper Marco Silvestri was pretty much as redundant as the South Stand stewards.

It’s worth remembering Rotherham won the league match in West Yorkshire 1-0 to set in motion a run of results which has since seen them climb out of the bottom three.

Nobody of a Millers persuasion would have traded that victory for a win on Saturday.

It was good to see Evans and Redfearn deep in conversation together in the Elland Road tunnel for a long time after the final whistle. I caught up with the Leeds boss later in the evening and his affection and respect for Rotherham remains undimmed.

“I love winning football matches and, yes, I wanted to win this one,” he told me. “But I would so much rather have beaten any of the other 62 clubs in the the third round.”

On to Tuesday, and the league visit of Brighton when AESSEAL New York Stadium will have its first glimpse of Belaid.

Maybe before Saturday some Millers followers would have settled for a narrow defeat as long as Rotherham were competitive and the 27-year-old Tunisia international looked like a player capable of aiding the league campaign.

They were, and he did.

He was beaten once by Mirco Antenucci in the first half and once by Doukara in the second, but otherwise was a composed figure, quick, good on the ball, spotting a pass and, crucially, standing up to the physical challenge of English football.

With points at stake against the Seagulls and the serious business of staying in the Championship back on the agenda, we can all say ‘Aimen’ to that.

Leeds United (4-4-2): Silvestri 6; Coyle 7, Bellusci 6 (Bamba 79), Cooper 6, Taylor 7; Byram 6, Bridcutt 6, Murphy (Cook 88) 6, Carayol (Dallas 74) 7; Antenucci 6, Doukara 6. Subs not used: Peacock-Farrell, Wootton, Phillips, Bianchi.

Rotherham United (4-2-3-1): Camp 6; Richardson 6, Broadfoot 7, Belaid 7, Mattock 8; Green 7, Smallwood 7; Facey 5 (Clarke-Harris H-T, 6), G Ward 6 (Derbyshire 78), Newell 6; D Ward 6 (Ledesma 57, 6). Subs not used: Cairns, Collins, Thorpe, Warren.

Goals: Carayol 45, Doukara 90 (Leeds).

Referee: Andy Woolmer (Northamptonshire).

Attendance: 16,039.