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Monday, 10 December, 2018

Rotherham struggle at Southend

Millers need to improve for promotion bid

Michael Smith of Rotherham United
1 of 1

Sky Bet League One

Southend 2 Rotherham 0
McLaughlin 7
Cox 79

Rotherham are an anomaly in Sky Bet League One where most teams have something to play for.

With no chance of automatic promotion but little chance of missing out on the top six, United need to be careful they don't sleepwalk into the playoffs and miss out on a swift return to the Championship.

Paul Warne has done a superb job bringing respectability back to Rotherham following their awful relegation campaign last term, but they were well off the pace at Southend and deservedly lost 2-0.

Warne spoke afterwards of being "old-manned" a phrase I had never heard before so I put into Google only to find a rather disturbing Urban Dictionary definition.

"A bowel movement characterised by loud grunting, deep exhale noises and an awful odour. Derived from old men who have no shame in public bathrooms who just let it go no matter who is the bathroom during or after."

Thankfully - or at least hopefully - that's not the definition of the phrase Warne had it mind - he was referring to Southend's older, wily heads playing the conditions better on a difficult surface.

However, difficult pitches are part of life on the road at this level and Rotherham came up well short at Roots Hall, particularly in the first half when they were fortunate to be only 1-0 behind to Stephen McLaughlin's goal following Simon Cox's shrewd approach play.

Within 30 minutes Southend had scored once and forced goalkeeper Lewis Price into smart saves from Dru Yearwood and Marc Antoine-Fortune, who also had an effort blocked near the goalline as Rotherham struggled in just about every facet.

It took the Millers just shy of 45 minutes to force a shot, David Ball's effort slipping just wide of the far post, but their first effort on target was nearly an equaliser after 62 minutes as Richie Towell forced a smart stop from Mark Oxley. But Cox took advantage of sloppy play from centre-back Semi Ajayi to seal maximum points for Southend.

There was a late Rotherham rally with Towell hitting the bar, while Michael Smith's effort was cleared off the line and there were a couple more goalmouth scrambles but it was all too late.

The Rotherham Star called it "one of their worst performances of the season" but it's now three defeats in four games, including losses to relegation-threatened pair Rochdale and MK Dons, so there has to be some concern in the camp.

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Warne started with a 4-4-2 formation but they lost the individual battles and it was only after the introduction of substitutes and a switch to 3-4-1-2 that Rotherham started to cause Southend problems.

Ajayi had an uncomfortable 90 minutes and was clearly targeted with Southend continually dropping balls over his head as well as looking to press him rather than the excellent Will Vaulks.

Target-man striker Smith, a key player for Rotherham since replacing departed top scorer Kieffer Moore, was bullied by Michael Turner and Rotherham were unable to build attacks or sustain pressure.

Positives were hard to find outside of the switch to a three-man defence which seemed to work, although captain Vaulks is clearly a key player. His long throws are also a decent weapon.

Fellow centre-back Ajayi is the target for most of those and it's easy to see why he has chipped in with five goals this season.

Consider Ajayi in future goalscorer markets, while Warne is convinced Rotherham will be seen at their best on better pitches, which would be the case for the home leg of a potential playoff semi-final and the final at Wembley should United make it that far.

The opposition

Fifth and sixth are up for grabs in League One and I have to admit to checking out 12th-placed Southend's promotion odds after this game - 150-1 in case you were wondering -  but seven points is probably too much to claw back with only eight matches remaining.

What is clear is that Chris Powell has the confidence of the dressing-room, which had been reportedly lost under previous boss Phil Brown, and the Essex side could easily finish the campaign strongly with Southend getting back to the standards which saw them miss the playoffs by just one point last season.

A hard-working team in a 4-4-2 formation, Southend had difference-makers in both boxes with Turner and Cox showing exactly why they have played at higher levels.

Southend have beaten top-six sides Wigan, Blackburn, Rotherham and Scunthorpe this season and their bench - Anton Ferdinand, Michael Kightly, Michael Timlin, Theo Robinson, Shayon Harrison and Josh Wright - suggests they should be higher than 12th.

This performance backs up the belief of a missed opportunity this season.

Southend 4-4-2: Oxley; Bwomono, White, Turner, Coker; McLaughlin, Yearwood, Mantom (Timlin 69), Wordsworth; Cox (Wright 89), Fortune (Harrison 81). 

Rotherham 4-4-2: Price; Emmanuel (Yates 58), Ajayi, Vaulks, Mattock; Taylor (Forde 58), Palmer, Towell, Williams (Newell 73); Ball, Smith.

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United need to be careful they don't sleepwalk into the playoffs and miss out on a swift return to the Championship
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