Some may have expected even after rotation, a pretty straightforward win for Town to send them into the third round of the Carabao Cup. However, it was far from that.
If it wasn’t thanks to two goals in the space of two minutes from Phil Billing and Joe Lolley, Seyi Ajayi’s goal would’ve been enough to see the Millers proceed.
Instead, David Wagner’s side managed to do enough to find a way to win and book their place in the third round draw. In this piece, I give my post-match thoughts and run through some of the major talking points to discuss.
Players in Focus
Jordan Williams- Maturity beyond the years
Prior to kick-off, I was excited to see Jordan Williams be given a chance.
Much has been said about the 17-year-old defender who has already been capped at the England U-19 level and he didn’t disappoint.
From the first whistle, it was clear that the majority of Rotherham’s attacking intent would come down his flank but that didn’t faze him.
There were some nervy moments for the young full-back but that was true of the entire defence which appeared sluggish against a confident and enthusiastic Rotherham attack.
I was particularly impressed by his reading of the game and his maturity to know when to play out of the back and when to clear his lines.
It was this sensible defending and at times no nonsense approach which gave me the impression that I was watching a matured seasoned professional rather than someone making their senior debut.
As well as showing maturity defensively, on the ball, Williams looked self-assured and confident enough to go forward and provide supporting runs in attack.
There were some moments where Williams was caught out of position when foraying forward, however, he has shown that he is more than worthy of the hype surrounding him and a loan move with guaranteed first team action would be the next logical step for the 17-year-old.
Philip Billing – Coming into his own
When half-time came, it was clear that something was missing. Until then, it had been quite a lacklustre display from a Town perspective, especially in midfield.
With the need for someone to take the game by the scruff of the neck, the introduction of Philip Billing in place of Christopher Schindler (a planned substitution made by David Wagner) did exactly that.
There was a confidence, almost an arrogance about Philip Billing as he came on and he showed that this season, he really is coming into his own.
Dropping deeper at times, Billing’s performance could’ve been described as Mooy-esque as he controlled the tempo and pace of the game and more broadly, dictating the play for Town.
He also utilised his athleticism and fast footwork to manufacture chances as Rotherham’s midfield struggled to get anywhere near him as he continued to find time and space where there didn’t appear to be any.
Billing’s confidence was epitomised by his willingness to take on the responsibility and score the penalty that was earned after Laurent Depoitre had been fouled in the box.
It wasn’t a surprise that despite coming on at half-time, the Dane received the man of the match award as it was he who took the game by the scruff of the neck and dragged Town through.
With each of these impressive performances, it’s visible that he’s taking confidence from them and if he can continue to perform at this level when called upon, the Danish midfielder will be difficult to oust from the starting line up by either Jonathan Hogg or Danny Williams.
The need for Tempo
Even though this was a much-changed side from the settled one that is thriving in the Premier League, David Wagner’s philosophy is still imprinted on it.
The lesson learned from last night is that Town play best when they play with tempo and without it, they struggle, that was true in the first half.
There was very little urgency, particularly from the midfield and without that urgency, Rotherham United whilst under pressure from Town weren’t threatened.
The introduction of Philip Billing was the catalyst for Town’s second half revival as he injected energy and much-needed composure into the game.
Whereas in the first half, Town were taking two or three touches and were struggling to find a way around Rotherham’s midfield, the second half saw Town play with tempo.
When Town played one touch passes and looked to disrupt Rotherham’s defensive play by drifting between the lines, the League 1 side struggled to handle it.
This did have a negative effect on the game as Town lost control and their defensive shape towards the end of the game. They were thankful that Joel Coleman kept Town in it but it was that raised tempo which saw Town score twice in the space of two minutes.
If this is to be the cup side, replacing Dean Whitehead with Philip Billing and allowing him to play as the chief creator and lead midfielder beside Danny Williams could be a master-stroke.
From both Town’s first Premier League games and last night’s game, it is clear that Town have spent pre-season working on numerous set-piece routines.
There was a variety of set-pieces used by Town last night to create chances.
From a low corner to the near post being flicked back to a midfield runner to a corner being pulled back to the edge of the box, Town showed that they now have a number of routines to turn to.
It was one 0f these set-piece routines that led to Town’s first goal. A short corner routine led to Kasey Palmer floating a cross which led to the incident which saw Laurent Depoitre fouled.
It may be something to look out for on Saturday against Southampton. Having used the game against Rotherham to experiment, there is no doubt that Town look much more dangerous from set-pieces and that is before they begin adding the variety of training ground techniques that they have developed over the summer.
Town’s reward is a rematch between Town and Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park. It will be interesting to see how David Wagner and Frank De Boer approach the game and if it will have anywhere near the same intensity of the opening match of the season.