A grim display, a grim result, a system change and the Grim Reaper ... the story of Rotherham United 0 Wycombe Wanderers 3

A grim display, a grim result, a system change and the Grim Reaper ... the story of Rotherham United 0 Wycombe Wanderers 3

By Paul Davis | 06/04/2021

A grim display, a grim result, a system change and the Grim Reaper ... the story of Rotherham United 0 Wycombe Wanderers 3
Freddie Ladapo in action against Wycombe. Pictures by Kerrie Beddows

 

THEY stood, straight-backed and suffering: three men in black, like undertakers watching on as their side conducted its own funeral.

Paul Warne, Richie Barker and Matt Hamshaw. The management team couldn't believe what they were seeing.

None of us could as Rotherham United, on an afternoon when they were most in need of survival points, crashed to defeat against the Championship's basement side.

"I did not see it coming," said Warne. "I tried to play it down but I knew it was a big game. I did not want the lads going into it feeling it was a 'must win' as I thought it might affect their performance."

It took only 87 seconds for things to go wrong as the third-bottom Millers gifted the visitors an opener and never truly recovered

"After they scored the first goal, everything was a bit rushed and there was no tempo to the game at all," the boss added. "I always knew this would be a really tough game."

This was match two of the 12-fixture run-in and Rotherham have lost them both, leaving them six points adrift of safety as the final whistle sounded at AESSEAL New York Stadium and fearing their games in hand might not be enough to rescue them.

This wasn't the real Rotherham. This wasn't the good, honest men who have scrapped, fought, given their all and rarely let themselves down this season.

This was a side stepping off the pace just when they needed to be stepping on it.

The Chairboys,  the only club in the division operating on a smaller budget than the Millers and now on a run of only one defeat in five, were sharp, committed, together, more than the sum of their parts.

They looked far more like a Rotherham team than Rotherham did.

THE MATCH

"That's definitely a fair comment."

Warne was responding to a suggestion in the after-match press conference that Wycombe had done to his side what the Millers often do to superior opposition.

"They were the best version of themselves they could be," he said. "I don't think we were. If you're 1-0, 2-0 up, suddenly all your teammates are cheering every tackle, every throw-in you win, every foul you win. That's why goals change games.

"I thought they managed the game really well and made it really difficult for us."

Paul Warne and Richie Barker

Within two minutes, Dan Barlaser's misjudged header from a long clearance by goalkeeper David Stockdale caused problems and Admiral Muskwe found it too easy to slip between Angus MacDonald and Ben Wiles in a defence badly in need of banned skipper Richard Wood to beat Viktor Johansson.

In the 24th minute, Jason McCarthy, set up by the impressive Uche Ikpeazu, was afforded too much time and space on the edge of the area and doubled the advantage with the help of a Wiles deflection.

Chance after chance came and went for Rotherham before the interval. Matt Crooks headed wide and so did Michael Ihiekwe, Crooks and Freddie Ladapo fired off target and Ladapo shaped to convert a Michael Smith cross only for Jack Grimmer to make a vital intervention.

Wiles drove forward and tested Stockdale who flung out a leg to deny Jamie Lindsay on the rebound. A Smith header was held by the keeper and a Lewis Wing shot was repelled.

"I'm disappointed that when we had opportunities to score we didn’t," Warne said. "That is why we came away with a 3-0 defeat.

"We had enough chances in the first half to get at least one goal back and we did not take them. Then, unfortunately, the pressure mounts, the frustration gets bigger and bigger and before you know it the game has seeped away from you and you have come away with nothing."

Number two Barker, his face darker than the Grim Reaper's, ran to the dressing room at the interval eager to instigate a shake-up that involved scrapping the 4-4-2 shape Rotherham had started with and the introduction of Chiedozie Ogbene - finally back after his September knee injury - and Florian Jozefzoon as wing-backs in the usual 3-5-2 system.

Wing was a whisker away from distance again, MacDonald couldn't get a clean connection when he had a sight of goal and, late on, George Hirst turned Smith's header on to a post but the Millers were never as dangerous as they had been in the opening period.

The one moment of real Championship quality in a contest between teams who were in League One last year came in the 83rd minute when David Wheeler produced perfect control after Adebayo Akinfenwa had cleverly beaten MacDonald in the air and ran on to sweep the ball beyond Johansson.

"I gave the players a bit of honesty afterwards," Warne said. "It's not my job to sugar-coat bad news. I told them where I thought we went wrong

"In a weird way, I think the lads wanted to win too much and it didn't allow them to perform at their max."

Michael Smith on the run

The boss headed for his car consoling himself with how many opportunities his men had created - far more than in some games from which they have taken three points.

"The thing I will drive home thinking about is that we created enough chances to get something and it just wasn't our day," he said.

It's not my job to sugar-coat things either. This was a tenth home loss and the most damaging and chastening of them all.

SYSTEM SWITCH

The formation change was forced on the Millers to some degree by Wood's unavailability and doubts about the fitness of wing-back Matt Olosunde whose hamstring niggle was left to heal for a little longer on the bench.

However, other factors were also afoot in Warne's thinking.

"One of many reasons why we didn't start with 3-5-2 is that they had a solitary striker with two deep-lying '10's. You then have two of your players behind the ball for long periods of time. We thought that with a back four we could have more players higher up the pitch. That was our intention.

"Had Matt been a bit closer to fitness I could have gone that way but he wasn't so it would have been a risk physically. Had Matt played today and then been out for the season it would have been even worse news.

"I ended up going 3-5-2 at half-time but, look, the wing-backs were Flo and Chieo. Now I'm not starting a game with Flo and Chieo as wing-backs. We had to get back into the game, we had to score the next goal and we had to have the most attacking side we could because the game was going away from us.

"With hindsight, I look at it and think we might have been better to have stayed as we were because we created enough in the first half to get a goal. At half-time sometimes you feel you just need to roll the dice. I rolled it and came up with the wrong number."

At the end, the undertakers acknowledged their Wycombe counterparts and headed, expressions as cold as the wind that had whipped around New York all afternoon, straight for the tunnel.

It's not too late for Rotherham and their fate remains in their own hands.

But if the Millers do go down they may well look back on Easter Monday as the day when the biggest nail was hammered into the coffin.

Goals: Muskwe 2, McCarthy 24, Wheeler 83 (Wycombe).

Rotherham (4-4-2): Viktor Johansson; Wes Harding, Michael Ihiekwe, Angus MacDonald, Ben Wiles (Florian Jozefzoon H-T); Dan Barlaser (Chiedozie Ogbene H-T), Jamie Lindsay (Ryan Giles 76), Matt Crooks, Lewis Wing; Michael Smith, Freddie Ladapo (George Hirst 76). Subs not used: Jamal Blackman, Matt Olosunde, Trevor Clarke, Shaun MacDonald, Kieran Sadlier.

Wycombe (4-2-3-1): David Stockdale; Jason McCarthy, Jack Grimmer, Josh Knight, Joe Jacobson (Anthony Stewart 44); Dennis Adeniran, Curtis Thompson (Daryl Horgan 87); Admiral Muskwe (Garath McCleary 87), Anis Mehmeti (David Wheeler H-T), Fred Onyedinma; Uche Ikpeazu (Adebayo Akinfenwa 78). Subs not used: Ryan Allsop, Scott Kashket, Giles Phillips, Alex Samuel.

Referee: James Linington (Isle of Wight).




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