The Football League Paper - - CHAMPIONSHIP - By John Brind­ley

STEVE Evans main­tained Rother­ham are a bet­ter side than last year de­spite an open­ing day maul­ing by pro­moted MK Dons.

A first-half hor­ror show saw the Millers con­cede three times as the man­ager’s new-look side, con­tain­ing eight debu­tants, creaked de­fen­sively.

The Dons even­tu­ally ran out com­fort­able win­ners and Evans was not about to hide his frus­tra­tion.

He said: “That’s as dis­ap­point­ing a first day as you can get. It’s a les­son learned for us in both penalty ar­eas.

“You can’t de­fend like that – and miss chances at key times – and ex­pect to win football matches.

“At 1-1, there was only one side go­ing to score and they were as sur­prised as any­one to score again.

“We had a few chances with balls go­ing across their box to make it 3-2 but (Carl) Baker’s goal killed our mo­men­tum.

“We’ll take this bang in the face and put things right. I be­lieve we are a bet­ter side than last year – but we didn’t show it.”

Dons are a neat and at­trac­tive ad­di­tion to the Cham­pi­onship but they didn’t have to be that good to flat­ten the Millers. None of Rother­ham’s back five had played for the club be­fore but, for 45 min­utes, they looked as if they had never played at all.

Only left-back Joe Newell, whose silky touch was more ef­fec­tive go­ing for­wards, was up to the mark.

It took less than five min­utes for ques­tions to emerge about Rother­ham’s dith­ery de­fence. Skip­per Greg Hal­ford was taken to the clean­ers by Dean Bowditch and Rob Hall was on hand to tap in the low cross.

Rother­ham’s first at­tack on 13 min­utes brought a quick life­line. Matt Der­byshire rose at the near post to flick his header past David Martin from a well-flighted Chris Maguire cor­ner.

Cu­ri­ously, given the fi­nal out­come, the next quar­ter of an hour could have seen the Millers go 4-1 up with Der­byshire the guilty party.

The striker’s ca­sual shot was turned onto the bar by Martin but Evans said he was still strug­gling to find out how Aidy White missed the open goal re­bound de­spite watch­ing the video ten times.

With Dons be­ing har­ried into poor mis­takes, Martin smoth­ered at Der­byshire’s feet then looked on help­lessly as the striker failed with a header. The tide turned with a mo­ment of for­tune for Dons as Jor­dan Spence’s right-wing cross was de­flected past the wrong­footed Kelle Roos by Danny Collins.

Then, a ridicu­lous hack by Hal­ford smashed Tom Thorpe in the face, al­low­ing Ben Reeves to es­cape down the left and cross for Bowditch to score.

Evans’ in­ter­val dou­ble change failed to prompt a con­vinc­ing Rother­ham re­vival, although Thorpe should have pulled a goal back with a weak header from Hal­ford’s 69th-minute throw.

Dons kept the home side at arm’s length and fin­ished with a touch of class as sub­sti­tute Carl Baker waltzed past Newell to blast a fourth.

Mid­field dy­namo Samir Car­ruthers ended the game with a ban­daged head but it’s Evans who has the real headache.

Mod­est Dons man­ager Karl Robin­son said:“I am proud to be at this level, let alone to play like that.

“For 15 min­utes we were strug­gling and Rother­ham should have gone 2-1 up, but we scored a for­tu­nate goal against the run of play and didn’t look back.

“It was im­por­tant for us to play with­out fear. We’ve been tipped to be the 24th team in this league and that’s tremen­dous mo­ti­va­tion for us.

“In­di­vid­u­ally we’re not as good as other teams in this league, but to­gether we are a bet­ter side.”

PIC­TURES: Ac­tion Im­ages

JOB DON: Dean Bowditch cel­e­brates scor­ing the third goal for MK Dons. Inset: Robert Hall opens the scor­ing af­ter just five min­utes

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