Rotherham United: Kieffer goes but the points keep coming ... Walsall 1 Millers 2
Farewell, Kieffer. Hello, three more points.
Rotherham United lost their talisman striker as Kieffer Moore played the final match of his loan spell before being recalled by parent club Ipswich Town.
But the wins keep coming.
The 2-1 victory at Walsall was the Millers’ fourth League One triumph in their last five outings, extended their 100 per cent record over the festive period and saw them take their 13th point out of a possible 15.
It’s been a very merry Christmas for Paul Warne’s men who end 2017 just one place away from the play-off reckoning in seventh spot.
Players are so keen to be part of it they were even calling cabs to get them to training last week when the snow stopped them using their own cars.
Moore, following a red card at Bristol Rovers, has played only a bit-part in the Millers’ deadly December, but 13 goals before then tell you about the impact the 25-year-old has made in his time in South Yorkshire.
He came on at half-time, replacing Jerry Yates when the score was 1-1 at the Banks’s Stadium, and swung the contest in the visitors’ favour. At the end, he went to the 765 travelling fans, gave away his shirt and heard them chant his name.
“I made the change at half-time and it obviously had an effect,” said manager Warne. “We were getting good crosses into the box. To be fair, I thought Jerry was really good for us, but he and Bally (David Ball) weren’t going to get on the end of all those crosses.
“Kieffer has come on, done what he does, played well and helped get us the second goal.”
Moore may be back. He might not be. With him or without him, right now the Millers are speeding along faster than a cabbie with a late-night fare.
The game was less than a minute old when Rotherham made their first mark. Ryan Williams played in Ball with a lovely little pass and Ball’s low cross was turned in by Semi Ajayi. 56 seconds, said the clock.
Walsall were level 11 minutes later when Joe Edwards found it too easy to get between the Millers’ centre-halves and despatch a well-placed header.
Erhun Oztumer shot wastefully wide for the home team, but Rotherham were a superior outfit and the feeling persisted that Walsall would win only if the Millers gave away the game. They didn’t.
Moore arrived and gave the Saddlers’ defence more trouble than they could handle. His header in the 57th minute brought huge shouts for handball and the referee looked to be ready to award a penalty until Ball saved him the bother by guiding home the loose ball for his fifth goal in seven matches.
Rotherham were on top, fighting, making every tackle, showing pockets of class. There were good individual performances everywhere. Semi Ajayi was commanding at the back. Richie Towell, assisting the winning goal with a superb pass to allow Josh Emmanuel to cross, was everywhere. Ball was a bag of clever touches.
Topping them all was Anthony Forde, playing against his former club, a constant danger, running faster and longer than any meter.
Walsall manager Jon Whitney acknowledged the damage a player he knows well had inflicted. “Well done,” he said, hugging Forde as the winger undertook after-match media duties. “You deserved it.”
Williams could have made it 3-1 in time added on, as Saddlers goalkeeper Mark Gillespie took himself forward, but his long-range attempt drifted wide of an empty net.
Warne said: “To finish 2017 with a win is great, particularly on the back of the run we’re having at the moment.
“It wasn’t a classic. It was end to end. Both teams looked tired at times. A couple of times when we came under pressure, the lads put their bodies on the line. I don’t think Walsall had enough of a threat to beat us.”
A class act to the end, Moore embraced the appreciation of the away following and handed his jersey to supporter Jono Topham who took is straight back to Rotherham for seven-year-old, Kieffer-loving nephew Jack.
The players are given two matchday shirts and the 6ft 5in cult hero was getting neither.
“If he thinks he’s taking his other shirt, he’s rudely mistaken,” Warne grinned. “That will be taken home for a little Warne.
“It’s a pity he didn’t finish with a goal, but then I’m pleased he didn’t score a ‘Messi’-style effort as it would make every other club want to sign him.”
A big shirt for young Jack. Big shoes for someone to fill, although let’s remember how well his teammates have done in his absence.
Rotherham want Moore permanently, It’s in Ipswich’s hands. January will signal a bidding war and the Millers will be part of it. “We’re a stronger squad when he’s in it,” Warne said.
We all hope he returns. For now, though, sadly ... taxi for Kieffer.
Walsall (4-4-2): Gillespie 6; Devlin 6, K Roberts 6, Guthrie 6, Leahy 6 (Candlin 85); Oztumer 7, Chambers 6, Edwards 6, Morris 5 (Kouhyar 61, 5); Agyei 5 (Jackson 68, 6), Ismail 6. Subs not used: L Roberts, Wilson, Kinsella, Flanagan.
Rotherham United (4-4-2): Rodak 6; Emmanuel 6, Ajayi 8, Vaulks 7, Mattock 6; Forde 8, Towell 7, Frecklington 7 (Wood 63, 7), Williams 7; Ball 8 (Newell 90), Yates 6 (Moore H-T, 7). Subs not used: O’Donnell, Cummings. Ihiekwe, Clarke-Harris.
Goals: Edwards 12 (Walsall); Ajayi 1, Ball 57 (Rotherham).
Referee: Graham Salisbury (Lancashire) 6.
Attendance: 4,685 (765).