Birthdays, brilliance, a dream debut and the deadly duo up front ... the story of Middlesbrough 0 Rotherham United 3

Birthdays, brilliance, a dream debut and the deadly duo up front ... the story of Middlesbrough 0 Rotherham United 3

By Paul Davis | 28/01/2021

Birthdays, brilliance, a dream debut and the deadly duo up front ... the story of Middlesbrough 0 Rotherham United 3
Matt Crooks scores the opener at Middlesbrough. Pictures by Jim Brailsford


HAPPY birthday, Mrs W.

Paul Warne's mother, Jenny, was 75 years young on the day Rotherham United's manager took his team to Middlesbrough for one of their toughest Championship trips of the season.

While mum was blowing out candles, son was watching his side blow away a Boro side just outside the top six.

This was one of the great Millers nights. Only the absence of fans inside the Riverside Stadium stopped it being perfect.

The display of Warne's men against Neil Warnock's outfit was stunning. Survival stuff against the survival messiah.

Warnock will always have the freedom of Rotherham for the miracle he pulled off in keeping the Millers in the second tier in 2016.

Five years on, Warne will surely lead his third-bottom team to safety if they continue to overpower opponents in the manner they did on a memorable, misty Wednesday evening on Teesside.

That's two victories and a draw in their last three outings as the new 3-5-1-1 formation grows in effect.

"Away wins are like golden nuggets for us at this level," Warne said. "Middlesbrough are only one win away from the play-offs so for us to come away and perform the way we did and get the victory is really something.

The two bosses

"The last six or seven games, we've played really well. The lads are in a good place. We’re playing a different way to how to we were playing at the start of the season. The system probably allows us to put our best players on the pitch."

A second successive away win - not achieved in the Championship since Warnock's time - lifted Rotherham, who have games in hand, to within two points of Derby County and Nottingham Forest and also brought Birmingham City and QPR into striking range.

"I don't think winning by three goals was over-flattering," said Warne with a touch of understatement.

There was another birthday in the Millers camp. New signing Ryan Giles turned 21 the day before the contest.

There were more celebrations for him to come ...


FIVE goals in six league games for Michael Smith, four in five for Matt Crooks.

Rotherham's attacking duo stretched Middlesbrough beyond breaking point and both were on the scoresheet again.

Partners, pals, they're a perfect, hard-running match, with each able to create opportunities for the other.

"They are great but don't write they are too great or they might get sold," Warne grinned.

"I told the lads that if they were at their absolute best tonight I thought they would win. I thought we would be too athletic. We didn't play at the weekend and I thought we would be a little bit fresher than Boro.

"It was definitely led by the front two. Smudge was so reliable up top winning his headers and we got willing runners past him. Every time we attacked with purpose we looked dangerous."

Both players had spurned chances and Crooks had had a penalty claim waved away by the time Smith caused more trouble in the Boro box and George Saville's header fell to Crooks who volleyed sweetly into the bottom corner from 20 yards just before half-time.

After the break, Smith was nearly in when Jamie Lindsay's free-kick was spilled by Marcus Bettinelli and then official Michael Salisbury's whistle again stayed in his hand as substitute George Hirst tumbled in the area.

Salisbury finally remembered that referees are allowed to give penalties for fouls in the area and Smith sent Bettinelli the wrong way in the 79th minute once the keeper had upended Michael Ihiekwe with a rash challenge.

Michael Smith strikes from the spot and Sam Morsy wishes he'd not said anything

The striker, as he waited to step up to the spot, was the target of a few verbals from Sam Morsy about not believing in himself and he, along with Crooks, Lindsay and Hirst, was quick to give some back to the Boro midfielder when the ball hit the net.

This lot believe all right.

Now came the birthday boy. Giles had been on the pitch for only four minutes of his debut when he buried a crisp shot from the left in added time. His effort took a deflection but was heading in anyway.

"21 on his first day with us," said Warne. "He scores on his second. Not bad! It's my mum's birthday today too so she will be a happy lady. Everyone is a winner."

Boro weren't without threat and had plenty 'nearly' moments, all snuffed out by selfless, organised, committed defending.

Their only attempt on target came at 1-0 in the second half when Duncan Watmore broke quickly and Morsy got a fierce connection. Jamal Blackman's save was as sharp as it was crucial at a key point in the clash.

"We rode our luck a bit at 1-0. Middlesbrough could have scored a couple and the lads did throw their bodies on the line," Warne said.

"I thought we created enough chances to win and on another day we might have had another penalty or two. I thought Crooksy's was blatant but I'm sure Neil thinks otherwise.

"3-0 and some good performances make it a really pleasing night."


Warne bristled. Just slightly. He's too good-natured a bloke to take easy offence but the comparison being made wasn't one he liked.

"Is it the case of the apprentice beating the sorcerer?" a journalist working for the national papers asked.

Warne was fitness coach when veteran Warnock - promoted eight times in his managerial career - was working his magic at Rotherham

Two promotions of his own in four years make the younger man anything but a learner and he was quick to politely disagree with the question.

However, his respect for Warnock - along with the two other members of the holy trinity, Kevin Blackwell and Ronnie Jepson - was obvious and he admitted he'd felt uncomfortable on the touchline as his team turned the screw.

"I don't enjoy playing against people I know in the other dugout," he said. "I love Middlesbrough's staff. They are brilliant people, great football people, so it made it awkward.

A dream debut for Ryan Giles as he bags the third goal

"They took defeat well, as I would have done. I just think Neil and I are cut from the same cloth. We both want everything from our players and that's what our teams normally give us."

Delighted though he was with the result, the boss steadfastly refused to get carried away, highlighting the fact that Rotherham's total at the halfway stage of their campaign isn't good enough.

"We are 23 games in and we have 23 points," he said. "If we do the same again, we are down, so we have to keep pushing standards to get more points in the second half of the season. I believe we will.

"We have been unlucky with injuries but we have got our best players coming back so it could be an interesting end to the season.

"I know what football is like. We could lose on Saturday. We could get punched in the face and everything is looking grim again.

"But this is a really good win away from home in the Championship and a really good day for us."

A really good day indeed.

Giles had brought in cake for his new teammates, by the way.

Boy, did the magnificent Millers put the icing on it.


Goals: Crooks 43, Smith pen 79, Giles 90+2 (Rotherham).

The Millers

Formation: 3-5-1-1

Jamal Blackman: 8

Made a tremendous stop at just the right time in the second half and was assured in everything he did.

Michael Ihiekwe: 8

Part of a backline that was asked questions and had all the answers.

Richard Wood: 8

Rumour has it that when Wood's clearing headers were compared to Tiger Woods' golf drives there was no discernible difference in length. More inspirational leadership from the skipper.

Angus MacDonald: 8

One very solid citizen. Boro got no change out of him.

Matt Olosunde: 8

Defensively conscientious and like a dart in attack. Not scared to back himself and take on his opponent.

Shaun MacDonald: 8

His first action since breaking his leg in October and looked like he'd never been away. Everything he did had a touch of class about it. Competed hard too.

Jamie Lindsay: 8

Emptied his nose as he ran on to the pitch - I wish I hadn't been watching - and then emptied himself with a tireless, abrasive display in the Millers' cause.

Ben Wiles: 8

The engine room with Lindsay. Non-stop running and some moments of real quality.

Wes Harding: 8

A big, strong presence up and down the left flank. Very little got past him

Matt Crooks: 9

His pace and mobility for a big man are unbelievable. Middlesbrough couldn't stay with him. His partnership with Michael Smith could keep Rotherham up. Worrying that he came off with a calf issue.

Michael Smith: 9

Unplayable. Murdered Boro's backline. Bullied them and won everything in the air. A vital player for the Millers. Always has been. Great to see him scoring so often.

The subs

George Hirst (for S MacDonald 68): 6

Decent when he came on, with Crooks dropping back in place of Shaun MacDonald.

Clark Robertson (for Crooks 85): N/A

Slotted in to good effect.

Ryan Giles (for Jamie Lindsay 88): N/A

Instant impact with a debut goal. Quick. Keen to attack. Looked a player.

Not used: Viktor Johansson, Adam Thompson, Curtis Tilt, Trevor Clarke, Freddie Ladapo.

Referee: Michael Salisbury (Lancashire) 5

Middlesbrough (4-2-3-1): Marcus Bettinelli 5; Djed Spence (Hayden Coulson 68) 7, Nathan Wood 5, Paddy McNair 5, Marc Bola 7 (Marvin Johnson 83); Jonny Howson 6, Sam Morsy 5; George Saville 5, Patrick Roberts 5 (Lewis Wing 68, 6), Duncan Watmore 6 (Ashley Fletcher 83); Britt Assombalonga 5 (Chuba Akpom 68, 5). Subs not used: Jordan Archer, Grant Hall, Hayden Hackney, Issac Fletcher.

Opposition view

“I can’t fault the effort. That was there. I thought we had the better chances but just never looked like scoring.

“Their penalty - he (Ihiekwe) was offside when he was pulled down.

"Look at them, they had three players down with Covid on Boxing Day when this game should have been played, so we rearrange and then get three major injuries (Dael Fry, Marcus Tavernier and Anfernee Dijksteel) in a week.

“It’s backfired on us because we were flying on Boxing Day.

“We just missed that bit of quality with Dijksteel, Fry and Tav out."

- Boro boss Neil Warnock

The stats

Possession: Boro 62 per cent, Millers 38 pc

Goal attempts: Boro 14, Millers 11

On target: Boro 1, Millers 6

Corners: Boro 7, Millers 3

Fouls: Boro 13. Millers 14

Final word

Rotherham will worry any team in the division in this form.

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