When the otherwise excellent MacDonald diverted a Pipa effort to gift Town a deserved but strangely unsatisfying point, the task of dissecting 96 minutes of football containing a reasonable amount of promise for the visitors yet embedded with many of the same problems became even more complicated.
Corberán’s overly enthusiastic post match assessment, which inexplicably included the epithet “fantastic”, perhaps reflected his pleasure at seeing the identity he wants to create take a few tentative steps forward in no small part due to the contributions of the new faces he has introduced. Or a linguistic misstep.
There was more than a little truth in the coach’s impression but rather glossed over some familiar issues, not least the inability to turn progressive possession in to goals. It should be recognised that Town were facing a tough opponent whose resilience was well known before the encounter and confirmed until the very last seconds of an interesting clash.
It was MacDonald who prevented Campbell opening the scoring in the 2nd minute with a last gasp block; had that chance been converted, the game would have panned out very differently. For all their physicality and excellent organisation, the Millers were rarely particularly threatening and the comfort of an early lead would have settled the visitors rather than frustrated them.
Quick out of the blocks, the Terriers established control early and moved the ball well at times but failed to create enough problems for the hosts’ resilient defence. One move which flowed from back to front ended with Campbell slipping on the greasy surface at the wrong moment and there was a perceptible gap in quality between the teams on the ball.
Halfway through the half, however, Town lost their grip. Not helped by a fussy referee, the game became fragmented, Town’s previous fluency disappeared and Rotherham exploited the shift with their most, and perhaps only, effective spell culminating in a quite excellent goal.
Sloppy passing and giving away too many niggly free kicks broke Town’s rhythm and when a cleared corner was not followed out quickly enough, Ben Wiles was left in far too much space. The midfielder unhesitatingly stroked an arrow straight, powerful and accurate shot past the helpless Hamer who may have asked a little more from Campbell who simply failed to close it down.
The Millers threatened to take further advantage of their opponents’ dip in performance with Hamer saving well from Ladapo following a swift break after breaking up a promising Town attack.
A second would have buried the visitors and the break came at a good time for them as Rotherham’s momentum after the goal had turned the match on its head.
In the context of the first half implosion and a normally fatal concession, the second half was moderately encouraging, if very frustrating.
The dominance of the ball and the progressiveness was badly let down by final passes and finishing, though the home side’s rearguard should be complimented for their excellent defending.
Koroma was the main culprit for the profligacy. He failed to control a superb ball from Eiting, and missed an easy chance following more excellent build up down the left, where Toffolo roamed freely and menacingly throughout the half. To be fair to him, Town’s best effort of the half was his curling shot from outside the area which went just wide.
With virtually nothing to worry about at the back as the Millers sat deep and resolute, Hogg, Stearman and Sarrs, who had a quietly impressive debut, were able to stroll forwards at will to begin attacks. Though they had some success moving the hosts around to create space, Rotherham rather abandoned the flanks in favour of relying on their ability to stop crosses; a faith which appeared wholly justified until the injury time calamity.
While Eiting is clearly a high quality player who will prove influential as the season matures, Town’s best performer was the excellent Pipa. Accomplished in possession, always available and a threat down the right, it was fitting that the Spaniard forced the error which gained a point (not that his shot was going anywhere).
On the left, Toffolo was menacing and delivered one particularly good cross on to substitute Dhiakaby’s head just a couple of minutes before the equaliser, but too many of his deliveries were easily cut out.
It was unfortunate for the home side to concede as they did, and must have been utterly galling for MacDonald who had done so much to thwart the visitors, but a share of the points, as Paul Warne acknowledged, was fair, even if Town had got out of jail not through their own abundance of threat, but as a result of an instinctive opposition error.
Overall, it had been a confusing afternoon. The shape and style of the team for the majority of it was pleasing on the eye at times and the new recruits look to be genuinely promising, but the lack of potency persists.
It is always dangerous to believe that missing players, and O’Brien in particular, may change the dynamic but a driving force alongside Eiting’s quality could be the key. With Grant unwelcome and sidelined by unfulfilled speculation, it seems unlikely that Town will conjure a 20 goal a season striker from somewhere.
Corberán’s conundrum remains the final third; supply is improving, though far from perfect, but conversion remains elusive.
It would also be remiss to overlook Rotherham’s excellent defending, organisation and resolve. Many teams will find them difficult to break down; as their 4 opponents to date already have.
Town haven’t lost in S66 for nearly thirty years, yet it is never an easy venue, even for the best Championship side we’ve ever had.
Hopefully, the international break will see more players becoming available to Corberán before a very difficult trip to South Wales. Sarr’s promising debut was helped by the lack of necessary defensive work; Swansea will be a much greater test.