Rotherham United: Point to remember, game to forget as run goes on ... Oldham Athletic 1 Millers 1
Ten minutes were left and Paul Warne stood on the touchline signalling to his players during a break in hostilities.
“Calm it down, slow it down,” suggested the Rotherham United manager’s body language. “No rush, no panic.”
Warne, a forward in his playing days, is a serial attacker. His natural inclination is to go for the win.
He knew this wasn’t one of those days.
This was a horrible game, a dour, dire utterly forgettable affair with a second half notable only for being even worse than the first.
But the Millers emerged with a point. An away point. And there’s no such thing as a bad one of those.
“It wasn’t a game for the purists,” said Warne after the first match since his Manager of the Month award. “The pitch was soft and wasn’t conducive to either team playing well.
“The lads are disappointed because they feel like they have dropped two points, which is good from my point of view because at least they are motivated to come and win.”
Rotherham arrived at Boundary Park a point away from the play-off places on the back of a six-match unbeaten League One sequence of four wins and two draws.
But on a terrible surface they weren’t at their best. They had some players off their game, others battling through sickness. It wasn’t pretty. It was downright ugly. This was about graft, not craft, about taking what you could and not chasing what wasn’t there.
And so the six-match run stretched to seven.
An assistant referee had the right idea after 17 minutes and limped off injured, thinking he wouldn’t have to watch such scrappy fare any longer. His plan backfired when he merely swapped places with the fourth official.
The Millers were given an early scare when Richard Wood headed a Craig Davies shot off the line, but they needed only seven minutes to score the first goal of life without club legend Lee Frecklington.
Frecks always chased everything and now David Ball did the same, speeding off in pursuit of his own pass when he realised intended target Jerry Yates was offside. Ball kept the ball in play, gave it to Anthony Forde and the cross eventually fell to Ryan Williams who made no mistake from 10 yards.
A second goal looked likely and would have killed off an Oldham side handing a debut to Rotherham old boy Ben Pringle, no longer of bottle-blond appearance and now going full-on ginger.
But Richie Towell conceded a needless foul 20 yards from goal just past the half-hour mark and Davies turned when the free-kick was played short to him before despatching a low shot past Marek Rodak’s right hand.
There wasn’t a single effort on target until time added on in a second half during which Will Vaulks flirted dangerously with a second yellow card. Lucky for him the Oldham fans weren’t deciding his fate after a 75th-minute late challenge on Ousmane Fane.
“We just didn’t have enough quality today,” said Warne. “It was a difficult game. Oldham fought but we defended resolutely and I was comfortable we weren’t going to concede.
“Sometimes you go away from home and you can nick a goal from a set-piece and that will be enough for the three points. It wasn’t to be, but we will take a point and now we have two home games to look forward to.”
Rotherham slipped a place, to eighth, in the table but are only two points away from the top six.
Substitute Joe Newell finally gave Johny Placide something to save in the 93rd minute before Towell, a player of considerable talent, blazed a wild shot over the bar.
Towell was throwing up in the dressing room afterwards. Through illness, I hasten to add, not disgust at a poor effort which summed up the afternoon.
New striker Michael Smith, all 6ft 4in of him, came on for his Millers bow in the 66th minute and referee Robert Lewis took an instant dislike to him.
Lewis penalised him constantly in aerial tussles for so-called transgessions no worse than anything Davies was getting away at the other end on Wood.
It wasn’t an afternoon to judge the 26-year-old who arrived from Bury only on Thursday.
“It was nice to get Smithy on the pitch. We need to polish him up,” said Warne.
Wood, up against a dangerous, muscular opponent, played well. But, with the greatest respect to the grizzled centre-half, when you say it’s a game made for Woody you know it’s not a classic.
“If we can keep picking up points away from home, it’s a happy club to be at,” Warne added.
“Oldham have won five games at home this season, which is real mid-table form, so it is not a great place to come to.
“If you’d said to me after 70 minutes, would I take a point, I probably would have.”
It’s not always about winning. Sometimes, it’s about not losing.