Our subs had an impact... again.
I’m not really a fan of Jack Clarke and actually thought he was pretty poor when he came on, but his cross into the box led to our goal and for that I’ll give him credit and say he had an impact. Elliot Embleton and Alex Pritchard, however, played a big part in how much we got on the ball and pinned Rotherham back in the latter stages of the game - technically both are very good at operating in tight spaces, and Embleton’s deep crosses caused Rotherham some issues. I thought Pritchard had scored with his free kick that hit the side netting too... along with almost everyone else at the south end of the ground!
It’s a valuable point!
I read the Score Predictions piece on the site before the game and particularly noted a comment from Matthew Foster that this was a free hit - I hadn’t actually thought of the game like that, and wasn’t sure if I agreed. Having watched the match, though, I’m with him. This was certainly a free hit, and a point that could prove vital come the end of play on Saturday, when you consider Plymouth and Wycome didn’t play last night. It wasn’t pretty but we’ll take it!
Our gameplan fell to pieces pretty quickly...
The inclusion of Jay Matete in the starting eleven made a lot of sense given how busy Rotherham’s midfielders are, but his impact was nulified almost immediately when he picked up a yellow card early in the game. He wasn’t able to stamp his authority on proceedings and that hurt us a great deal. On top of that, we knew going into the game that we had to be very careful whenever Rotherham got a set piece - and for their goal, Luke O’Nien got caught ball-watching which gifted Ihiekwe a free header. I didn’t mind the team selection or the tactics we started with, but it hinged on us staying disciplined and, ultimately, we weren’t able to do that.
The occasion fazed Doyle, unfortunately
Earlier in the day, I pondered whether Callum Doyle was a better fit than Arby Xhemajli for this particular game. I thought starting Doyle was probably the right thing to do, but I was worried he’d be bullied physically like he was down at Rotherham earlier in the season. Sadly, that’s what happened again - their big striker Michael Smith specifically targeted him and he struggled big style. On top of that, he seemed a little fazed by the occasion and he was sloppy with the ball, something I wouldn’t normally accuse him of as one of his strengths is his ability on the ball. With some big games coming up potentially, we really need him to grow up quickly.
Andrew Smithson says...
Rotherham United set up well and made everything difficult for us. No quarter was given and it made for a very scrappy match, but I couldn’t fault the work rate or the desire to get stuck in. Lynden Gooch looked to be carrying a knock in the final stages and Luke O’Nien had to receive treatment at full time - there could be a few more bumps and bruises come tomorrow morning too, but I was pleased to see the Lads working hard for the shirt.
There were calls for the crowd to stick with the team and that is exactly what they did. Although things were tense and the team were struggling in some respects the fans did what they could to lift the players and I think they appreciated it. I love hearing the chants and the encouragement, it gets everybody going and could more of the same could still make a big difference in the coming weeks.
Sunderland tried to make things happen in the final third but very little came off. We looked at our best when moving the ball quickly but it only happened in fits and starts, partly because of the way Rotherham played and partly because our passing was not quite right. I’m slightly worried that when added to the Plymouth Argyle match it makes two games against promotion rivals recently where we’ve looked a bit off colour, but I suppose you will never have it all your own way and now we’ve seen the return of Alex Pritchard I’m hopeful he can add the extra bit of quality we need.
Going to be a long old week
I’m sick of looking at the table and trying to work out all the permutations, and it is only going to get worse between now and Saturday. Fair play to Alex Neil and the squad for getting us back into a position where things are in our own hands, but it’ll still be a nervy few days and now I just want this Morecambe game done and dusted.
Ant Waterson says...
We didn’t lose
That was probably our worst performance under Alex Neil. We looked second best throughout and really struggled to come to terms with Rotherham's pressing. But we have salvaged something from the game and go into the final game knowing what we need to do. The never say die attitude of this team lately has been commendable.
Gooch is doing everything lately to get a new deal. Another game where he was the best player in a red and white shirt. Gooch divides opinion, but you can’t deny his attitude and work rate are top drawer. Hopefully, he can keep it up.
We saw this against Shrewsbury where Sunderland conceded two horrible goals, even the Cambridge game the goal against us was very avoidable. Then, although it's a great ball in, Sunderland’s marking was shocking. We really need to iron this out.
For the first time in his reign, Alex Neil got it badly wrong. Dropping Elliot Embleton made absolutely no sense. It robbed us of an attacking player in midfield and we resorted to lumping stupid long balls up to Stewart and Broadhead. The subs made an impact and who knows what might have happened should Neil had been a bit more adventurous to behind with.
Tom Albrighton says...
A wonderstrike own goal will never not be hilarious, and a diving header straight into the top corner is up there with one of the best I can remember seeing, especially considering it’s usually our defenders pulling off shite like that.
Half time chew
A change of pace meant I went for jelly snakes as a half time snack. Not a traditional choice, but they made for a nice treat.
Crap selection, crap tactics
I wasn’t the only one bemused by Alex Neil's overly-defensive team selection, and whilst most could relate to playing it somewhat safe, it still made for painful viewing. It’s one thing to be cautious and another entirely to play into the opposition’s strengths (which happen to be our main weaknesses, too). For all Neil got his selections and tactics spot on last Saturday, Tuesday was the polar opposite, and arguably not entirely necessary.
A problem like Matete
When he signed, Jay Matete was earmarked to play the perfect role to compliment the now ostracised Dan Neil. Since then, nothing has really stuck for him in the middle, and whilst his talent shines through, it’s only ever fleetingly. Hauled off in favour of more creativity, it seems that we can’t manage to find the perfect partner for Matete, especially when his theoretical perfect partner inexplicably can’t get a game.
Malc Dugdale says...
It’s a point...
We scraped a jammy point when we didn’t really deserve one for me. Yet again, we forced a late goal and grabbed a share of the points, through a classy own goal header. We can take that and move on, but we hardly deserved it in my view.
I can’t think of another positive! That was as crap as we have been under Alex Neil, for me.
Not sure of our tactics!
The setup from the start was overly defensive, lacked any spark or creative options, and meant the game felt like a cross between the losing Charlton playoff final (where the only goal was an own goal too), and an away semi final playoff leg where we were hoping to get a draw, then win the home leg. I’m not impressed with the choices made by the gaffer and he will need to be way more tactically astute to secure that play off spot, and then do something with it.
Players really dropping off form
Jay Matete was pretty poor, and it hasn’t been his first poor showing. Luke O’Nien was asleep for their set-piece goal, and loads of the players could neither control the ball well enough nor find the right final pass. We didn’t register a single shot on target and only had five at all, compared to their 13. What else do we expect with that midfield three of Evans, Matete and O’Nien? Though Rotherham were a factor with their great pressing in the first 45 especially, there is a lot to learn from here and not a lot of cheer for me, but thanks to that flying header by their goal scorer, we are still in this.