Rotherham United verdict: Millers 1 Fulham 3 as stats make harsh reading

Matt Derbyshire fails to score from the spot. Pictures: Jim Brailsford
Matt Derbyshire fails to score from the spot. Pictures: Jim Brailsford

All the talk before the match had been about figures, the disparity in the respective wage bills of Rotherham United and Fulham: £4.8 million for the Millers, defying all the odds to even be in the Championship, £60.4m for the Cottagers who should surely be in the Premier League with that kind of outlay.

Afterwards, there were different numbers being bandied about: No wins in five league games for Steve Evans’ side, 13 goals conceded in that time and 24th out of 24 clubs heading into the international break.

Jonson Clarke-Harris scores

Jonson Clarke-Harris scores

This was a worrying defeat against a team that, despite their huge resources, had arrived at AESSEAL New York Stadium only one place off the foot of the table themselves.

The home crowd didn’t like what they saw and there was anger in the New York air at a tepid, disjointed performance far removed from some of the swashbuckling displays they’ve grown used to during two promotions and a season of second-tier survival under Evans.

The Rotherham boss wasn’t one for hiding afterwards.

“I thought it was a poor performance from us and we can’t say anything different,” he said. “Listen, if I was a fan, I wouldn’t be happy at losing 3-1 at home to Fulham.”

Frazer Richardson is stretchered off with an ankle injury

Frazer Richardson is stretchered off with an ankle injury

Previous matches had carried mitigating circumstances or offered varying degrees of hope.

The home defeat against MK Dons could be put down to an opening-day blip when the Millers, had they taken their early chances, may well have cruised to victory, a dour New York match with Preston had at least delivered a point, while away losses at Nottingham Forest and QPR had seen the Millers perform well in patches only for penalty decisions at crucial times to go against them.

But Saturday, against a Fulham side that was decent but certainly not great, was the most dispiriting afternoon of the season so far.

Fulham were two goals up after just 15 minutes and, of course, one of them just had to go to Ben Pringle, a hero of the double promotion before opting for a move to West London in the summer.

Millers old boy Ben Pringle up against Jonson Clarke-Harris

Millers old boy Ben Pringle up against Jonson Clarke-Harris

The left midfielder scored just two home goals all last season but, after being given a rousing reception by Millers fans on his first return to New York, pounced after just seven minutes, steering in the ball from close range when goalkeeper Adam Collin parried Moussa Dembele’s header into his path.

Eight minutes later Ross McCormack fired home a penalty after weak defending from Lewis Buxton had seen James Husband surge into the box to be upended by Greg Halford’s swiping right leg.

Pringle next struck in his own box, bringing down Jonson Clarke-Harris after 32 minutes, only for referee Geoff Eltringham to wave away raucous appeals for a spot-kick.

When the Millers were awarded their first penalty of 2015, as Jazz Richards tripped Paul Green in the 53rd minute, Matt Derbyshire, caught in a horrible run of missed chances at the moment, stepped up to give Andy Lonergan a comfortable save.

“How we don’t get a penalty in the first half is highly embarrassing for the Football League officials,” Evans said. “The referee is not the reason in any shape or form why we lost today, but if somebody watches that back and tell me it’s not a penalty, my god!

“Our best spell was at the start of the second half. We get the penalty, everybody gets up, we miss the penalty and everybody goes straight down again. It’s very hard.”

Clarke-Harris capped another impressive performance with a stunningly-emphatic 73rd-minute strike from 20 yards, capitalising on lung-sapping work from Green who had chased and hounded Dan Burn into giving away possession.

It’s one of the grim ironies of the early part of the season that the young striker who spent much of last year on the periphery of the first team should now be the club’s main cause for optimism.

The trademark Millers surge in the last 20 minutes never really happened and Fulham wrapped up the points in time added on when Jamie O’Hara beat Emmanuel Ledesma and Aidy White, grizzled defenders neither, far too easily and supplied the pass for Cauley Woodrow to sweep home.

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Evans says the squad he has now is superior to the one which started last season and, purely in terms of personnel, few would disagree.

Players have come in with better records and higher-level pedigrees than the ones they have replaced, but some have yet to justify their reputations in a Millers shirt or find their feet in a system driven by effort, fitness and desire.

So what we had on Saturday was that very, very rare sight on a football pitch, a side of arch-motivator Evans less than the sum of its parts.

And, with no Championship programme for a fortnight, it was a bad time to under-perform as this setback will linger.

“It’s evident after the games we’ve played that there is a lot of work that needs to be done and one of two people are perhaps not good enough,” Evans acknowledged.

The knives were out, as he knew they would be, on internet sites over the weekend, and supporters with reasoned arguments and justified concerns have the right to say what they think. But the manager deserves some respect. Without him, Rotherham wouldn’t even be operating at this level.

Against that, more sobering stats ...

The last time the Millers started a season in anything like similar fashion - three draws and two defeats in their opening five fixtures - was in 2004/05 when Ronnie Moore’s side went on to lose their Championship status.

Rotherham United (4-4-2): Collin 6; Buxton 6, Halford (c) 5, Collins 6, Richardson 5 (Ledesma 53, 5); Maguire 5 (G Ward H-T, 5), Green 6, Smallwood 6, Newell 5 (White H-T, 5); Derbyshire 5, Clarke-Harris 7. Subs not used: Roos, D Ward, Ledesma, Rawson, Thorpe.

Fulham (4-4-2): Lonergan 7; Richards 6, Ream 7, Burn 7, Husband 7; Ciarney 6, Tunnicliffe 6, O’Hara 8, Pringle 6 (Kacaniklic, 90+5); McCormack (c) 6 (Christensen 82), Dembele 6(Woodrow 76). Subs not used: Lewis, Hutchinson, Voser, Mattila.

Goals: Clarke-Harris 73 (Rotherham); Pringle 7, McCormack 15 pen, Woodrow 90+4 (Fulham).

Referee: Geoff Eltringham (Tyne & Wear).

Attendance: 8,839 (704).