Second-half slump sees worries turn serious
AS REPLACEMENT referee Justin Amey blew for the start of the second half at Plainmoor on Tuesday night, Torquay United had genuine and justifiable hopes of a much-needed win against promotion-chasing opponents.
The Gulls had been on top for most of the first half – Millers goalkeeper Andy Warrington had pulled off a series of good saves – and stand-in manager Shaun Taylor had just sent on new loan striker Elliot Benyon from the subs' bench.
Fifty seconds after Mr Amey blew for the restart, Rotherham took the lead with a goal which won't make good watching on the replays and United were back on the slippery slope to another depressing defeat.
As their fragile confidence evaporated in the second half, Rotherham seized the initiative and kept hitting them on the counter-attack.
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At 2-0 down, a stoppage-time penalty by Billy Bodin seemed like too little and too late. It turned out to be not even that, for Steve Evans' side scored a third goal straight from the kick-off...3-1.
A worrying situation at Plainmoor has now become properly serious.
Either side of manager Martin Ling's sudden sickness departure three-and-a-half weeks ago, United have now taken only five points from their last nine games.
Their only win has been that 1-0 derby victory at Exeter City, on the day that Ling fell ill. How precious those three points look now. But they have followed it with three successive defeats, at Cheltenham and at home to Fleetwood and Rotherham.
This week's result dropped them to 18th place, and they are sliding towards the relegation zone.
After a series of matches against teams in the top-three or Play-Off zone, they are about to tackle two absolutely crucial away games – at Rochdale (16th) on Saturday and one-from-bottom Aldershot next Tuesday night.
One of the plus-points against Rotherham was that United managed to overcome a dodgy start in which Steve Evans' men looked quicker, stronger and better in most departments.
The visitors were first to too many balls, and United's passing was erratic.
Yet they turned that around after 20 minutes and, just as against Fleetwood, they should have scored before half-time. Kevin Nicholson, Lee Mansell twice, Billy Bodin, Ashley Yeoman and Ryan Jarvis all went close, Warrington just denying Mansell's two efforts with spectacular saves.
Just before the interval a loose ball dropped kindly for Rotherham winger Kieron Agard, in space in the penalty area, but Michael Poke saved his shot with his legs.
It was the only shot on target that Rotherham had in the first half. United had four on target and seven off.
The interval was delayed by five minutes, because of a calf muscle injury to referee Brendan Malone.
Amey took over, with Mr. Malone doing the Fourth Official duties.
Taylor had kept faith with the Fleetwood starting eleven, but at half-time he took off Nathan Craig, who was feeling unwell, and sent on Benyon in a reshuffled attack.
But before the 46th minute was out, Rotherham scored.
Daniel Kearns broke down their left wing, found Lee Frecklington on the edge of the area, he flicked the ball over two defenders, volleyed for goal and watched in glee as the ball squirmed out of Poke's grasp and over the line.
United were never the same again.
In the 59th minute Alex Revell powered down the right-hand side of United's area and hit a low left-foot shot across Poke and into the opposite corner...2-0.
Taylor sent on Lloyd Macklin for Yeoman on the right wing, and United's second sub nearly scored with his first touch.
Downes flicked on a Nicholson long throw from the left, the ball dropped for Macklin at the far post and his snapshot was cleared off the line by Liam Ridehalgh.
Evans – he and assistant Paul Raynor were their usual animated selves throughout the night – was able to take off strikers Revell and Daniel Nardiello in the last half-hour and sent on powerful replacements in Kayode Odejayi and Jordan Slew, on loan from Blackburn.
In the 78th minute Downes was harshly booked for a foul on Odejayi – he appeared to win the ball – and Rotherham's former Icelandic international Kari Arnason tested Poke with the ensuing free-kick from 22 yards.
If anything it was Rotherham who looked like scoring again near the end, but at the start of four minutes of stoppage-time, United grabbed a slenderest of lifelines.
Rotherham right-back Mark Bradley tripped Bodin in the area and, in the absence of the suspended Rene Howe, Bodin stepped up to take the penalty and drilled the ball in off the right-hand post...2-1.
Could United still save themselves? Er, no.
Rotherham kicked off, sub winger Courtney Cameron raced down the right, all the way to the bye-line, pulled the ball back and Odejayi had only to tap the ball over the unguarded line from point-blank range...3-1.
United's defence was completely caught out.