Rotherham United match verdict and reaction: Millers 3 Bristol City 0

Celebrations aftrer the first goal. Pictures: Jim Brailsford
Celebrations aftrer the first goal. Pictures: Jim Brailsford

Three more points, three goals, two successive wins, two consecutive clean sheets and there’s only one Tony Stewart.

With the home team leading 3-0 in the second half, that old familiar refrain rang out from the North Stand for the Millers chairman, telling you all was good in the world of Rotherham United.

Jonson Clarke-Harris

Jonson Clarke-Harris

The chant had been missing this season as, before Saturday, Rotherham had won only once in the league at AESSEAL New York Stadium, but times look like they could be changing as the influence of new boss Neil Redfearn becomes apparent.

The statistics make for happy reading but don’t begin to tell the full story of what was really happening, the cold study of data not allowing for the passion, commitment and desire running through the side in the way Grant Ward kept running through the Bristol City defence.

That awful first half against Ipswich Town before the international breaks now seems a long time ago. Saturday’s result, coming after the breakthrough win of Redfearn’s reign at Leeds United a week ago, was a big statement of intent.

And City were no mugs. They arrived at New York with only two defeats in nine matches and were unlucky to head in at the break two goals down after giving Rotherham plenty of first-half problems.

One very fiercely-struck penalty!

One very fiercely-struck penalty!

Not as many as Jonson Clarke-Harris gave them, though. The 21-year-old striker turned the game in the 10th minute, forcing his way inside from the right and then curling into the far corner one of those beautiful 25-yard left-footed shots which are becoming his trademark.

Afterwards, he revealed an opposing defender was in his line of sight and he never saw the ball hit the back of the net, the only Miller in the ground unable to savour a piece of magic of his own creating.

Sixteen minutes later, he had the prime view as his penalty, awarded when Kirk Broadfoot was hauled down by Jonathan Kodjia, ripped into the City goal. It was hit so hard and true that some wags speculated goalkeeper Frankie Fielding might have put self-preservation first by keeping himself well out of the way.

“I can remember missing a penalty for the reserves once,” Clarke-Harris said. “That wasn’t happening again. I knew what I was going to do as soon as I got the ball. I knew exactly what was going to happen, and the keeper was half-scared. He wouldn’t have saved it if he had dived.”

Lee Frecklington seals the win

Lee Frecklington seals the win

In between Clarke-Harris’s goals, Millers old boy Kieran Agard scampered clean through for Bristol but found keeper Lee Camp equal to his shot. Robins boss Steve Cotterill described it as the game’s key moment.

Aware of the danger of Luke Freeman operating at the head of a five-man midfield, Redfearn used Richie Smallwood to nullify City’s creator in chief and, midway through the first half, pulled back attacker Danny Ward to match up the numbers.

Agard glanced a 30th-minute header just wide, and the visitors would never come as close again as Rotherham, organised and resolute, took a firmer grip and controlled second-half proceedings as they let City come on to them and then hit them on the break.

Grant Ward had a huge game, the young midfielder looking like the player we all hoped he would be after his sterling pre-season form. He snapped into tackles, fizzed up and down the right flank and the Robins had no answer to his driving runs when he had the ball at his feet.

Happy times as AESSEAL New York Stadium

Happy times as AESSEAL New York Stadium

“I thought he was the stand-out player,” Redfearn said. “He’s got a turn of pace, and he’s got pace with and without the ball. He can run away from people and he deals with the ball in tight areas.”

All that was missing was a goal as the Spurs loanee lost his head even more spectacularly than he was losing markers when he could have capped an almost complete display.

“I think it’s youthful exuberance. He gets in good positions with his speed but he’s then finishing at the same pace,” Redfearn said. “He needs a bit of composure, to steady himself. But I think that will come. He’s only 20.

“He gives you energy and athleticism. And he gets you up the pitch. I must have counted nearly a dozen times today where he’s picked it up and travelled with it 40/50 yards. It puts them under pressure. He’s played a real part in it today.”

Ward is one of the younger players benefiting from Redfearn’s decision to add experience to the side as he bids to lead the Millers out of the Championship drop zone.

Games against teams around them in the table, like City, are the ones they must win, and old heads - Rotherham’s starting back four were all 30-somethings - are providing the foundation for youth like Ward and Clarke-Harris to flourish.

Grant Ward

Grant Ward

Only a good save by Fielding denied J C-H a first-half hat-trick as the Rotherham man met Lee Frecklington’s right-wing cross with a sweet back-post volley.

Redfearn, just as he refused to become too down when his first six matches, all against teans with play-off hopes, brought no victories, isn’t getting too carried away now.

“It’s a couple of wins. It’s a long, old season,” he said. “I think the presence of some experience has helped. If you look at the back four today, it’s a really experienced back four with Danny Collins at left-back. It’s given us a platform.

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“Now, when games are tight and there isn’t much in them, like at Leeds last week, we look mentally tough. We look strong.

“It’s good to score three, but, to be honest with you, and I know it’s a really boring thing to say, I’m more pleased with the clean sheet. The clean sheet is everything.

“Bristol City are a side who have got some results recently and to ‘nil’ them is no mean feat. There was a little bit of luck in there. But I’ve always been told that the harder you work, the luckier you get, and we worked our socks off.”

It’s maybe no coincidence that the upturn in results has also coincided with the return from injury of Frecklinton and his reunion with midfield partner Smallwood.

Redfearn talked of his skipper running his blood to water for the cause on Saturday, while fans, who have loved him since the club’s League Two days, probably think he can turn water into wine.

Captain Inspiration steered home Danny Ward’s low cross, a clever finish with his ‘wrong’ foot, in the 75th minute, to wrap up Rotherham’s biggest winning margin since returning to the Championship in 2014.

The Millers remain second from bottom but are now right back in the pack and only one point separates them from 19th place.

But this victory, remember, wasn’t about mere stats. It was about the things stats can’t measure.

At Elland Road seven days earlier, amid the workrate and spirit, there had been relief and the stirrings of hope.

By 4.30pm on Saturday, as a silver-haired owner in a rather natty winter coat gave a benelovent wave to the Millers faithful chanting his name, those feelings, like the team, had moved on a level.

Now there’s steely determination and real belief.

Rotherham United (4-4-2): Camp 7; Buxton 7, Kelly 7 (Rawson 45, 7), Broadfoot 8, Collins 7; G Ward 9, Frecklington 8 (Barker 86), Smallwood 8, Newell 7 (Hyam 82); D Ward 6, Clarke-Harris 8. Subs not used: Collin, Derbyshire, Toffolo, Yates.

Bristol City (3-5-2): Fielding 6, Ayling 5, Flint 6, Baker 5 (Moore H-T, 6); Bennett 7, Pack 6, Smith 6, Freeman 6, Williams 7; Agard 5 (Wilbraham 58, 6), Kodjia 6 (Cox 68, 5). Subs not used: O’Leary, Bryan, Little, Reid.

Goals: Clarke-Harris 10, 26 pen; Frecklington 75.

Referee: Tim Robinson (West Sussex).

Attendance: 8,949 (866).

Neil Redfearn

Neil Redfearn