Red gloves, a red card and a narrowing promotion gap ... the story of Rotherham United 0 Shrewsbury Town 3

Red gloves, a red card and a narrowing promotion gap ... the story of Rotherham United 0 Shrewsbury Town 3

By Paul Davis | 20/03/2022

Red gloves, a red card and a narrowing promotion gap ... the story of Rotherham United 0 Shrewsbury Town 3
Angus MacDonald is about to be sent off. Pictures by Kerrie Beddows

 

IT was supposed to be about red gloves, it ended up being about a red card.

Fans were wearing them, the players warmed up in them, manager Paul Warne and his staff were all sporting them to raise money for charity.

Chairman Tony Stewart was another willing participant as the Rotherham United family filled donation buckets in aid of Rotherham Hospice in return for a pair.

Then Angus MacDonald was sent off.

The Millers centre-half came in behind Luke Leahy to make an aerial challenge in the 34th minute and the Shrewsbury Town midfielder crumpled.

MacDonald headed the ball just before his arm made contact with the Shrews man through the momentum of his leap. Referee Anthony Backhouse saw an elbow that wasn't there.

"I thought it was really harsh, I wasn't expecting it to even be a foul," said Warne. "The player has hit the deck so that is a big deal and it brings it to the ref's attention.

"Angus led with his arm but didn't elbow their lad. Players leading with their arm is quite a common thing. I just thought it was quite an extreme reaction to a quite normal challenge. Angus did nothing more than jump."

Rotherham had fallen behind two minutes earlier at AESSEAL New York Stadium. The last thing they needed as they sought the win they required to protect their advantage at the top of League One was to face the next hour with ten men.

MacDonald left the field glowering and growling, spitting venom into the face of the fourth official in a raging parting shot.

New York had witnessed a recent stirring fightback from a goal down by a team lacking in numbers but not belief.

Now it was time for the Millers to do to the Shrews what MK Dons had done to them two weeks previously.

THE MATCH

It didn't happen and by the final whistle Rotherham had suffered their heaviest defeat of the campaign.

They headed into a three-week break from league action stewing on how their lead over Wigan Athletic and MK in the race for promotion promotion has been steadily eroded this month.

A ten-v-11 comeback never looked remotely on the cards as the fluent, organised visitors, playing well above their 17th-placed station, moved the ball around in the second half and then picked off the Millers when the home side finally began to commit more men forward.

"When we played MK and they went down to ten men they sat behind the ball for the whole game and did us with two counter-attacks," Warne said.

"For 65 minutes against Shrewsbury we just tried to stay in the game and then the plan was to take bigger risks. That's what happened. We conceded two late goals and there could have been more.

"But we had to take the risks. If we had taken them earlier, the scoreline could have been even more demoralising."

Ollie Rathbone had fired wide for the Millers and Michael Ihiekwe had cleared off the line from Ryan Bowman at the other end by the time a crunching tackle from Ethan Ebanks-Landell dispossessed Josh Kayode on the halfway line and Daniel Udoh raced away on the left to beat Josh Vickers with a thumping, clinical finish.

It made the decision of ref Backhouse not to award a first-half penalty at 0-0 when Kayode was felled off the ball even more significant.

Warne, by now minus his gloves, revealed afterwards he'd believed his team would still take something from the contest.

Ollie Rathbone is upended

"I knew I had players behind me on who could come on and change the game," he said. "I honestly thought we could get back into it. We don't often go behind and if we do we normally come back."

Vickers kept the Millers in it, his superb double-save keeping out Bowman's header and then turning away Josh Vela's follow-up.

But in the 78th minute Rotherham's hopes were gone when another fine Vickers stop from Bowman saw the ball fall to Elliott Bennett who was lurking in unmissable range.

The match's busiest player reacted smartly to foil Leahy before Michael Smith had the home team's first and only effort on target, an 84th-minute shot that Marko Marosi had no trouble gathering.

In time added on, Bowman took aim and fired a final arrow into the Millers with a precision strike.

"We have lost today and the two teams below us have won. Is this a massive turning point? Maybe," said Warne, asking as well as answering questions in his post-match press conference.

"Maybe at the end of the season we will look back at this result and say it kicked the lads on. Or maybe it goes the other way. Who knows?

"All we can do is be really positive around the group. We are still in a really good position, although not as good as it could have been, obviously."

A 21-match unbeaten run from September to the end of December led Rotherham to the summit. January and February brought eight wins in nine games. March has witnessed two draws and two losses in five.

The Millers, having gone from brutal to brittle, are having their wobble at the worst possible time.

MISSING MEN

Chiedozie Ogbene and Mickel Miller warmed the bench.

It had worked perfectly at Cheltenham Town in October's smoother times when the wing-backs had been introduced in the second half to take the game away from the Robins.

On Saturday, with the result going the other way, Warne had to explain why two of his most potent attacking weapons hadn't been on the pitch for the kick-off.

"Both were threatened with injury if they started," he said. "I listen to the medical staff all the time.

Michael Smith makes a break

"It wasn't ideal to have Mickel even on the bench because he played 90 minutes during the week and we are trying to build him up to make his hamstring more resilient.

"Chieo is always an injury worry. We have to manage his minutes. If we'd won the game and I'd brought them on with 20 minutes to go it wouldn't be an issue. But I appreciate that when you lose everything is an issue."

The break comes at the right time. Rotherham need to refresh, reset, remember what made them the division's most feared team for large swathes of the campaign.

The Latics could be in pole position and MK could be only a point in arrears of the Millers by the time Warne's men emerge for the run-in on April 9.

Seven games. Two automatic-promotion spots. Three teams.

The gloves, red or otherwise, will be well and truly off then.

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Goals: Udoh 36, Bennett 78, Bowman 90+2 (Shrewsbury)

Attendance: 9,253 (426)

The Millers

Formation: 3-5-2

Josh Vickers: 8

His busiest game in a Rotherham shirt and he was the Millers' man of the match by a distance. Pulled off a number of good saves.

Rarmani Edmonds-Green: 5

Has had a great season but this wasn't  a great return in his first league start since a January hamstring pull. Beaten far too easily by Ryan Bowman for Shrewsbury's third goal.

Angus MacDonald: 4

Out of sorts and already having a poor day before the referee ended his participation early.

Michael Ihiekwe: 6

The steadiest performer in Rotherham's backline.

Jordi Osei-Tutu: 5

Named the sponsors' man of the match. Either they didn't come out of the corporate lounge for the second half or the wine was very strong. No dig at the player but he didn't earn the award. Has pace to burn and used it well a couple of times. Does he have the appetite to use it more often?

Ben Wiles: 6

Tried to make things happen. Shed possession needlessly once or twice. One of the Millers' better performers.

Dan Barlaser: 5

As ineffective as he's been in a long while. Rotherham aren't the same side when he's not pushing buttons and pulling strings.

Ollie Rathbone: 6

Ditto Wiles.

Shane Ferguson: 6

Saw plenty of the ball only for his crossing and set-pieces to lack their usual accuracy.

Michael Smith: 5

It's not going for Rotherham's talisman at the moment. Spurned his one chance and performed better out wide than he did down the middle. Starved of service in the second half.

Josh Kayode: 5

Did his best work out of possession with his pressing. Needed too long in the opposition box a couple of times when quicker reactions might have given him a sight of goal.

The subs

Chiedozie Ogbene (for Barlaser H-T): 6

Good moments from him. Not enough of them, though, as the 11 men of the Shrews kept the ball and negated any Millers attempt at a fightback.

Richard Wood (Josh Kayode H-T): 6

Not even a man of his leadership skills could get the home side going.

Mickel Miller (Osei-Tutu 69): 6

Little chance to shine as the visitors were beginning to really hurt Rotherham when he came on.

Not used: Viktor Johansson, Wes Harding, Jamie Lindsay, Hakeem Odoffin.

Shrewsbury (3-5-2): Marko Marosi 6; Matthew Pennington 8, Ethan Ebanks-Landell 8, Tom Flanagan 8; Elliott Bennett 8, Josh Vela 7, Tyrese Fornah 7, Luke Leahy 7, George Nurse 8 (Aaron Pierre 88); Ryan Bowman 8, Daniel Udoh 8 (Tom Bloxham 86). Subs not used: Harry Burgoyne, Shaun Whalley, Matthew Bondswell, Joshua Daniels, Saikou Janneh.

Referee: Anthony Backhouse (Cumbria): 5

Opposition view

“To get the first goal when we did was really good. It was a great finish.

“We have had players sent off for less this season. I thought the referee was brave to give it against a team who are top of the table and in front of a partisan crowd.

"It's a sending-off. Maybe back in my day it might not have been but unfortunately it is now.

"It was important we kept the tempo of the game high and kept the ball in play. We knew if we kept the ball it would eventually tire out their team. We were in control of the game.

"They are a good team and will go up. They deserve to go up."

- Shrews boss Steve Cotterill

The stats

Possession: Millers 44 per cent, Shrews 56 pc

Goal attempts: Millers 12, Shrews 18

On target: Millers 1, Shrews 10

Corners: Millers 6, Shrews 7

Fouls: Millers 5, Shrews 11

Final word

Hopefully it's the Millers of earlier in the campaign who emerge from their league break next month.

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PLAYER VERDICT

"Obviously things didn’t go as planned. A man down against Shrewsbury is never a great idea. They are a good team and they showed their quality.

We fought as well as we could. We changed the system a couple of times to see if we could put pressure on them and they had answers for it.

"We have to put it behind us."

- Chiedozie Ogbene