754 miles, no Munchies and the voice that mattered to Paul Warne ... the story of Norwich City 1 Rotherham United 0

754 miles, no Munchies and the voice that mattered to Paul Warne ... the story of Norwich City 1 Rotherham United 0

By Paul Davis | 20/02/2021

754 miles, no Munchies and the voice that mattered to Paul Warne ... the story of Norwich City 1 Rotherham United 0
Paul Warne back at Carrow Road. Pictures by Jim Brailsford

 

IT was the place where he first fell in love with football but Paul Warne was glad to see the back of Carrow Road.

His Rotherham United team had just run into his childhood club, Norwich City, and had picked the wrong day to take on the side topping the Championship table.

As a boy, Warne was taken to games by his dad, Russell: a father-and-son ritual, the thrill of yellow and green and a packet of Munchies.

All the Millers manager got on Saturday was a bagful of trouble as Norwich highlighted the gulf between the summit and the drop zone.

Rotherham responded manfully after the break and twice came close to an heroic equaliser but there was no doubting that the home side deserved their win.

"They are the best team in the league," Warne said. "In that sort of form they are going to cause anyone problems. I'm not embarrassed by our performance. I thought the lads competed as well as they could."

Defeat pushed the Millers back into the relegation places and Warne was keen to head back north. For a rest as much as anything.

The fixture schedulers had done him and his squad no favours, sending them to Norfolk just three days after the longest trip of the season to another promotion contender, Bournemouth.

"I was exhausted on the bus travelling down," he said. "I don't think our performance lacked any energy, though. Sometimes you just have to hold your hands up and say the opposition are better than you.

"If their players are more technically gifted and quicker than yours, it is difficult to stop what they do. They deserved to win. I have got no complaints with that."

Seven-hundred-and-fifty-four miles in all. A point against the green and yellow, a step too far.

THE MATCH

Russell Warne died in 2019 and, inevitably, Warne Junior felt him near.

"I thought about him when I walked out on the pitch when we arrived," the boss said.

It was the only time. After that, his mind was occupied only with how to plug the gaps that saw the Canaries flying through his team's defence.

Norwich's first-half display, full of speed, sharp passing and clever movement, was the best Rotherham have been hit with this season.

Teemu Pukki and Mario Vrancic could have scored before the Millers had the ball in the net in the 11th minute only for Clark Robertson's header from a corner to be ruled out for an alleged infringement by Dan Barlaser on goalkeeper Tim Krul.

Rotherham defenders were conspicuous by their absence six minutes later when Pukki's run was picked out by Emi Buendia's pass and the striker coolly swept the ball past Viktor Johansson.

Clark Robertson heads the ball into the Norwich net

A Michael Ihiekwe error let in Todd Cantwell who did everything right virtually all game but missed waywardly on this occasion while Robertson's block had to be as spectacular as it was courageous to keep out Buendia's shot.

"I just wish we'd been braver in the press in the first half. That was my only real issue," Warne said. "You don't need to gift a team like that a goal the way we did.

"I thought we were just a bit edgy at the back in the first 10 minutes. As the game progressed I thought we grew into it.

"I am disappointed with the goal that got disallowed. That seemed very harsh."

It's well over 20 years since Warne lived in North Walsham, 17 miles from Carrow Road, and before kick-off it had felt good to reacquaint himself with old haunts.

"This morning I was at Dunston Hall Hotel," he said. "I went for a run down where my mate has a restaurant. I ran past and felt a bit, not homesick but like I was at home.

"When we left the hotel, someone asked how far it was to the stadium and they were told: 'You'd better ask the gaffer, he knows.'

"All the roads were familiar which is quite a nice thing when you have been away from home for so long. It is just a shame we don't leave here with something."

Ben Wiles almost left with the Goal-of-the-Season award for a volley of exquisite timing and ferocious power that fizzed past Krul two minutes after the restart and gave the strength of the crossbar a thorough workout.

"I thought it was in," Warne lamented.

Wiles' strike was part of a much better second-half display by the visitors who responded to their manger's interval call for more aggression.

Johansson had to be alert on 70 minutes to thwart Pukki  and then Vrancic with the follow-up but it was the Millers who came closest to scoring.

Matt Crooks thought he'd made it 1-1 when he latched on to Freddie Ladapo's 72nd-minute pull-back and beat Krul who was rescued by Max Aarons' goal-saving block.

"At half-time we asked the lads to play with a bit more belief and press harder," Warne said. "If we leave two v two at the back, then that is how we play.

"We didn't come here for a draw, we came here to try to win. We made attacking subs to try to get ourselves back in it. Our best chance fell to Crooksy and it was a great tackle by their lad to stop a guaranteed goal.

Ben Wiles' thunderbolt

"All in all, the best team won, there is no disputing that, but that doesn't detract from the effort the lads put in."

Meanwhile, the long, frazzled hair and the instant control could mean only one thing: Sads was back.

Winger Kieran Sadlier came on with quarter of an hour to go for his first action since damaging his ankle in November.

"It was good to see him on the pitch," Warne said. "I thought he had an impact."

AN HONEST BUNCH

We all know how the Millers give everything but sometimes it's good to hear it from a different mouth.

Warne was conducting his after-match press duties on the touchline when a Norwich journalist volunteered:  "I know this won't mean much, but your team are the hardest-working, most honest team I've seen here this season."

The manager hastened to put him right.

"When you say it doesn't mean that much, it actually means a lot," he said. "All we can do is be the best version of ourselves as coaches and players. If we were and we competed against a very good team then I am proud of that.

"I am not buzzing about the result, but I can't ask the players to be any better than their best."

Covid had robbed the homecoming of some of its meaning for Warne. No fans, no family, no friend, just protocols, temperature checks and no points.

An empty feeling in an empty stadium.

It allowed him to focus solely on football matters. A run of four wins and a draw in seven matches had seen his team looking upwards but, after three successive single-goal losses, they are down to 22nd spot again.

"We were good against Cardiff City and good against Bournemouth and got nothing." he said.

"People keep telling me if we play like that we'll be fine but we need points. We can't expect all the other teams around us to keep losing to keep us out of the bottom three.

A day back on familiar territory had left him pondering how to escape familiar territory in the league.

Goals: Pukki 17 (Norwich).

Norwich (4-2-3-1): Tim Krul; Max Aarons, Christoph Zimmerman, Grant Hanley, Dimitris Giannoulis; Oliver Skipp, Kenny McLean; Emi Buendia, Mario Vrancic (Alex Tettey 90+4), Todd Cantwell (Lukas Rupp 90); Teemu Pukki (Adam Idah 90+3). Subs not used: Daniel Barden, Kieran Dowell, Xavi Quintalla, Jacob Sorensen, Onel Hernandez, Andrew Omobamidele.

Rotherham (3-5-1-1): Viktor Johansson; Angus MacDonald (Matt Olosunde H-T), Michael Ihiekwe, Clark Robertson; Wes Harding (Florian Zozefzoon 83), Dan Barlaser (Freddie Ladapo 67), Lewis Wing, Ben Wiles, Ryan Giles; Matt Crooks (Kieran Sadlier 75), Michael Smith (George Hirst 67). Subs not used: Jamal Blackman, Richard Wood, Trevor Clarke, Shaun MacDonald.

Referee: Tony Harrington (Cleveland).




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