Paul Warne's tears, one last effort and only six minutes from staying up ... the story of Cardiff City 1 Rotherham United 1

Paul Warne's tears, one last effort and only six minutes from staying up ... the story of Cardiff City 1 Rotherham United 1

By Paul Davis | 09/05/2021

Paul Warne's tears, one last effort and only six minutes from staying up ... the story of Cardiff City 1 Rotherham United 1
Paul Warne after the final whistle in Cardiff. Pictures by Jim Brailsford

 

HE'D just finished speaking when the tears came.

Paul Warne had done his media duties elsewhere with Sky and talkSPORT and now he was talking to his local lads, the ones who matter most to him, those who are there for every pre-match press conference, who travel to every game.

The last question had been asked and all it took was a kind, off-the-record word from a reporter for the dam to break.

Standing on the touchline at the City of Cardiff Stadium where his team had just suffered the cruellest last-day relegation, the Rotherham United manager broke down.

Covid protocols meant boss and journalists were kept at a distance, separated by a barrier; a large gap between him and them at the end of a campaign where the gap between the Millers and survival was crushingly small.

The rain lashing down in South Wales adding a further grim sheen to his agony and isolation.

Rotherham had been six minutes from staying in the Championship after fighting against setback after setback since September's onset of hostilities.

"It's a hard question to answer," Warne said when asked if he had the stomach for League One next year.

"I'm emotionally beaten. I want to be the manager who tries to recruit a new team, I do. But I just want to go away, lick my wounds and shut my front door for a few days.

"I'm not saying I want to walk into unemployment or anything. I just don't know what more we can give."

He talked of the sacrifice, of the cost: "Rich (number two Barker) lives 200 miles from his family. He's broken in there, the same with Hammy (coach Matt Hamshaw), the same with Andy (goalkeeper coach Warrington). Everyone works so hard at this club. It's literally life-consuming.

"I need a break from football. In two or three days, I'll probably have my mojo back and be flying again. At the moment, I just feel as if I want to wallow in my sadness."

THE MATCH

Only a win was enough to give the Millers a chance of safety and for a long time it seemed that was what they were going to get.

Richard Wood had spent the warm-up smashing away headers as if his life depended on it and his teammates took on their skipper's spirit when the action kicked off for real.

They dismantled eighth-placed Cardiff City in the first half, took an early lead, rode some second-half pressure from the home side and came firing back in search of the second goal that would have killed the contest.

Warne, as usual, had managed to find himself a steaming carton of tea, taking comfort from habit on a Saturday when the tension brewed up to boiling point.

With 88 minutes on the clock and events at Pride Park between Derby County and Sheffield Wednesday going their way, Rotherham were on the brink of one of the greatest achievements in their history.

But Jamie Lindsay failed to make a clearance, Marlon Pack swept the ball into the back of the net and the Millers, playing their 12th game in 37 days, could find no response in four minutes of time added on.

"I am really hollow," Warne said. "I just feel for the lads, my captain, the owner and the fans, everyone. The lads gave everything. We did more enough to win the game."

Early hope for the Millers as Lewis Wing opens the scoring

Just when he thought the hurt could grow no worse, the manager suffered even further.

In the whirl of emotion following the final whistle, he hasn't heard the Rams v Owls result and now the press revealed to him it had been a 3-3 draw and that Rotherham would have retained their second-tier status had they hung on for just a few minutes more.

"Oh, God," he breathed, his voice and focus trailing away as he contemplated how close his team had come.

Earlier, Lewis Wing had rounded off his loan spell by despatching a sumptuous 22-yard volley beyond Dillon Phillips when Wes Harding's cross was headed out to him in the eighth minute and Matt Crooks, twice, Wood, Angus MacDonald and Michael Smith all had opportunities to extend the lead.

After the break, Wood produced the block of the game to deny Millers old boy Kieffer Moore and Jamal Blackman was forced into his only save by Harry Wilson.

In response, Smith broke down the right and tested Phillips at the keeper's near post and Crooks set up Wing only for the scorer to agonisingly fluff his lines as the goal opened up for him on 75 minutes.

Rotherham fought for every ball, made every yard, tracked every run, bust every gut and the bench was off its feet applauding any piece of good play.

A famous victory was in their grasp. Then Marlon sent all hopes Packing.

"We had plenty of chances that we should have taken," Warne said. "If any Rotherham fan has criticism of that performance, then I am sorry. To draw away at Cardiff is some point but it wasn’t what we wanted.

"This result has not sent us down. It is the points dropped earlier in the season that has done that."

This had been a season like no other, a battle fought in adversity with injuries, Covid outbreaks, postponements, refereeing errors and an unmanageable schedule all conspiring against the Millers.

More than anything, though, it is their own failure to take their opportunities that has condemned them to the drop.

"We have had more than enough chances to win two games today and maybe that is a microcosm of our season," Warne said. "We are well-organised, fit, determined and together - all those things - but we just lack a little bit of cutting edge in the final third."

CHANGING FORTUNES

They were down, they were staying up, they were down, they were staying up, they were down.

The picture changed regularly throughout the afternoon as Rotherham were holding on to their lead and Derby and Wednesday traded goals 170 miles away. If the Rams won, they were guaranteed the last survival spot. Any other scoreline gave the Millers reason to believe.

Behind the dugout, Trevor Clarke's mobile phone was pinned to his ear as the unused left-back kept abreast of events.

Painfully, it was Warne's 48th birthday and the journey back to South Yorkshire was not the happiest of returns.

Misery for Michael Smith at the end

"I am devastated for the lads because this should have been a great memory for them," he said. "I said to them this morning that they could remember this when they are 90. This could be a game and a memory, with the bus-trip home, that would burn into them forever. I feel for them, I really do.

"The way we have played and behaved in the Championship this year, I'd like to think it has made Rotherham fans really proud. I don’t know what more we could have done.

"I have come out of the dressing room really quickly. I thanked the lads for their efforts this season and it has been an honour to work with them. But I know that dressing room is not going to be the same next year, which is heartbreaking."

More than once he had to catch himself as too much welled up too quickly inside.

He took a deep breath, composed himself and managed a tired, grateful smile to those who know him best before being pulled away to conduct yet another interview.

He was being asked for too many words on a day of wounds.

As he departed, I looked out on to the pitch, the deathbed of an heroic eight-month effort, and something he'd said on the eve of the final showdown took on added meaning.

“The 11 I send out will not let this club down."

They didn't. Not in Cardiff, not throughout the season.

Goals: Wing 8 (Rotherham); Pack 88 (Cardiff).

Cardiff (3-4-2-1): Dillon Phillips; Marlon Pack, Aden Flint, Curtis Nelson; Perry Ng, Leandro Bacuna (Jonny Williams 59), Joe Ralls, Ciaron Brown; Harry Wilson (Sheyi Ojo 77), Rubin Colwill (Mark Harris H-T); Kieffer Moore (Josh Murphy 59, Sol Bamba 90+3). Subs not used: Alex Smithies, Sam Bowen, Jake Evans, Lee Tomlin.

Rotherham (3-4-3): Jamal Blackman; Michael Ihiekwe (Freddie Ladapo 90), Richard Wood, Angus MacDonald; Wes Harding, Lewis Wing (Chiedozie Ogbene 90), Ben Wiles (Joe Mattock 87), Ryan Giles; Florian Jozefzoon (Jamie Lindsay 62), Michael Smith, Matt Crooks. Subs not used: Vikor Johansson, Matt Olosunde, Shaun MacDonald, Dan Barlaser, Kieran Sadlier.

Referee: Graham Scott (Oxfordshire).


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