Paul Warne's apology, Scooby Doo and the derby-day hangover ... the story of Stoke City 1 Rotherham United 0

Paul Warne's apology, Scooby Doo and the derby-day hangover ... the story of Stoke City 1 Rotherham United 0

By Paul Davis | 01/11/2020

Paul Warne's apology, Scooby Doo and the derby-day hangover ... the story of Stoke City 1 Rotherham United 0
Freddie Ladapo in action at Stoke City. Pictures by Dave Poucher

 

ONCE upon a time, many years ago, Rotherham United's Paul Warne and Stoke City's Michael O'Neill were teammates.

On Saturday, they stood on the touchline at the bet365 Stadium as rival managers.

O'Neill had moved on from their time together at Wigan Athletic to take charge of the Northern Ireland international side before ending up with the Potters.

They were separated by only a matter of yards but the distance in their relationship was much greater as O'Neill has long forgotten the part the Millers boss played in his past.

"I saw him when I was doing my coaching badge in Ireland when he was head of the Ireland team and they were training at the same place," Warne had said in the build-up to the Championship clash.

"I talked to him but, if I'm honest, I don't think he had a Scooby Doo who I was."

A mention of Scooby Doo before the contest. And if it hadn't been for that pesky route-one moment in the 27th minute, Rotherham might have got away with it.

A long goal-kick, a flick-on and a routine finish brought their downfall. No visiting player was anywhere near the ball as it went from Stoke goalkeeper Angus Gunn straight into their net via Steven Fletcher's head and James McLean's foot.

Shaun MacDonald who later went off injured

"It is one ball down the middle that just got a deflection that adds pace to the ball and does Icky (Michael Ihiekwe)," Warne said. "Then McLean goes in and lobs the keeper.

"That was hugely frustrating, but they are the random things that happen in football. You can't legislate for it. Overall, apart from that, we didn't have many problems. But we didn't ask Stoke enough questions."

The goal, three days after Rotherham's derby-day triumph over Sheffield Wednesday, settled a dour Hallowe'en affair. Few tricks, no treats, just some tired Millers bodies and flat performances.

"I can't fault my lads' effort," Warne said. "I messed up. I should have made more changes to freshen my team up, so I apologise for that.

"But I didn't want to make too many changes when they played well in midweek. I was caught between a rock and a hard place."

He needed only four words to perfectly sum up a game that saw his side slip two places in the table to 19th.

"It wasn't a classic."

THE MATCH

Late in the second half, Dan Barlaser sent a free-kick straight into the arms of Gunn as Rotherham chased an equaliser and you knew it wasn't going to be the Millers' afternoon.

If the prince of playmakers was doing that, something was awry.

Earlier, after McLean had slid an inviting chance wide for O'Neill's team, Warne's men had had their clearest sight of goal just before they fell behind.

Freddie Ladapo jinked his way through the Stoke defence in the 27th minute but slipped as he was about to pull the trigger.

Gunn's ensuing goal-kick bypassed the Rotherham defence, allowing McLean to do his stuff, and Jamal Blackman's save from Nick Powell prevented a quickfire second.

As half-time approached, beautiful control from Mickel Miller from Angus MacDonald's long ball took him clear but his low cross couldn't find a black-and-grey shirt when the net was gaping.

Dan Barlaser up against John Obi Mikel

"I thought we were okay between the boxes but we didn't create enough," Warne said. "I don't think Stoke created enough against us either to justify their win.

"It is disappointing that we have come here to win or, worst case, take a point and we have ended up not taking anything.

"It shows how far we have come that we are coming to places like Stoke and are disappointed that we are not taking anything home with us."

Before kick-off, there had been a cordial exchange between the bosses; nothing warm enough to hint at their shared Latics experience. Warne had suspected O'Neill wouldn't recall their history and looked to have been proved right.

Once the whistle blew, Darren Bond, like some of the Millers, ran around having a poor game.

The referee booked Angus MacDonald for an alleged trip on Powell, who had slipped, and if that was worthy of a yellow then Stoke striker Steven Fletcher should have seen red, rather than go unpunished, for a weak but clear kick at Blackman.

The Millers, making attacking substitutions, pressed but didn't produce after the break as the game fizzled out into grim, dreary nothingness.

Blackman's only action was a comfortable catch from Danny Batth's header while Gunn went through his 96 minutes without having a save to make.

"The lads are disappointed in there because they feel like for large parts of the game they matched Stoke," Warne said..

He repeated for emphasis something he had already stated on the day and has also said previously this season: "They just didn't do enough to create chances to win the game."

THE DAY LESS

Twenty-four hours less to prepare. Only two changes.

The numbers didn't add up for Rotherham who went into battle after a Wednesday derby duel when Stoke had played a day earlier at Swansea City.

Warne had considered resting more of his side but, in the end, settled for bringing in Angus MacDonald for Richard Wood at centre-half and playing Shaun MacDonald in place of Ben Wiles in midfield.

"It was a little bit 'After the Lord Mayor's Show' following on from Wednesday," the boss said.

"I honestly think 24 hours makes a big difference in the recovery. They just looked sharper and stronger than us, although I am not sure our keeper had any proper saves to make.

"You try and pick the right team, you try and freshen it up where you can. It is difficult."

Front trio Freddie Ladapo, Florian Zojefzoon and Miller had presented compelling cases to stay in the side with their derby displays but none of them reached the same standards against Stoke.

"I thought, the other night, those three were excellent," Warne said. "If I was a player, I'd still want to play on the Saturday. I ummed and ahhed whether I needed to freshen it up.

"We tried to freshen it up with the subs but they didn't have the impact we wanted. You're damned if you do and damned if you don't. You're judged by results and I will be judged poorly because we lost."

There was a final, civil coming-together between the managers at the end.

No recognition from O'Neill on the day Rotherham were unrecognisable from the Millers of midweek.

Goals: McLean 27 (Stoke).

Stoke (4-2-3-1): Angus Gunn; Tommy Smith, Harry Souttar, Danny Batth, Morgan Fox; John Obi Mikel, Jordan Thompson (Jordan Cousin 78); Tyrese Campbell (Jacob Brown 78), Nick Powell (Tashan Oakley-Boothe 89), James McLean; Steven Fletcher. Subs not used: Blondy Nna Noukeu, Liam Lindsay, Tom Ince, Sam Vokes.

Rotherham (4-2-3-1): Jamal Blackman; Wes Harding, Michael Ihiekwe, Angus MacDonald, Joe Mattock; Dan Barlaser, Shaun MacDonald (Matt Crooks 59); Florian Jozefzoon, Jamie Lindsay (Michael Smith 59), Mickel Miller; Freddie Ladapo (George Hirst 70). Subs not used: Viktor Johansson, Richard Wood, Ben Wiles, Kieran Sadlier.

Referee: Darren Bond (Lancashire).


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