Selfies, supporters, similar managers and a big promotion point ... the story of Wycombe Wanderers 0 Rotherham United 0

Selfies, supporters, similar managers and a big promotion point ... the story of Wycombe Wanderers 0 Rotherham United 0

By Paul Davis | 13/03/2022

Selfies, supporters, similar managers and a big promotion point ... the story of Wycombe Wanderers 0 Rotherham United 0
Ollie Rathbone up against former Miller Lewis Wing. Pictures by Jim Brailsford

 

THE man of the people was among his people.

Minutes after the final whistle, Paul Warne found himself caught up in a throng of Rotherham United supporters by the exit gate at Wycombe Wanderers' Adams Park ground.

Few managers enjoy a warmer relationship with their club's followers and he was posing for selfies, phones held aloft as fans captured their images with the boss who was happily gurning alongside them.

A raucous away contingent of nearly 1,000 had put in a shift to match any of the players as the League One leaders stood up to a home side desperate for victory in their fight to return to the play-off places.

"The people who travelled here today, I thought they were in really, really good voice," Warne said.

"We appreciate them coming. It makes a difference. When the lads are 'hanging', they get spurred on by the backing. With nine league games left, we need everyone."

Warne had approached the away end to offer his personal thanks and decided to stay there for a chat and photo session.

He was content, fans were content, and they had every reason to be.

Paul Warne applauds the fans

Rotherham had responded well to the blip of a week earlier when they had surprisingly given up their six-month unbeaten home record by losing to third-placed MK Dons.

As Warne's men were drawing with Wycombe, the Dons were doing likewise with Wigan Athletic, in second spot, and the Millers' automatic-promotion gap remained at four points - and a game in hand - with another round of the run-in negotiated.

"The MK result makes our point an even better one," the manager acknowledged. "It's obviously a good result for us. We haven't lost any ground to them."

THE MATCH

"It wasn't a classic."

Warne wasn't wrong in his assessment of Saturday's clash.

Both teams went after each other but defences were on top, space was at a premium and the ball spent as much time in the sunny Buckinghamshire air as it did on the ground.

Rotherham goalkeeper Josh Vickers beat out Jason McCarthy's angled drive early on and Michael Smith, on his 200th Millers appearance, brought stops from David Stockdale with a first-half shot and a header.

That was almost it for serious on-target attempts as work rate and organisation got the better of flair and intent.

"Wycombe are hard to play against," Warne said. "It's been two absolute 0-0 bore-offs between us this season.

"I thought we were good in the first and created really good chances that we didn't take. We didn't create enough in the second half to win the game."

For the visitors, after the MK disappointment seven days earlier and a draining late Papa John's Trophy Wednesday night in Hartlepool, that was okay, and supporters understood.

"Everyone I spoke to thought it was decent point for us," Warne said after the final picture had been taken and the travelling faithful headed for their coaches and cars.

Before the interval, the move of the match, between Ollie Rathbone, Shane Ferguson and Ben Wiles, culminated in Wes Harding's shot nestling far too tamely in Stockdale's hands while at the other end Sam Vokes hooked one effort over and another one wide.

In the second period, Rotherham, getting heads and feet on everything as they switched to a 4-3-3 formation to counter Wycombe's threat on the flanks, were equal to all the home side's pressure and the outcome was a 21st league clean sheet and the number of third-tier away goals they have conceded  remaining at a paltry five.

By the closing stages, the Millers had decided that sticking rather than twisting was the best way forward, protecting what they had rather than putting it at risk in the chase for something more.

"We could have possibly gone more gung ho in the last ten minutes," Warne said. "But waking up tomorrow with a point rather than nothing will feel good.

"I would definitely have taken a point after 80 minutes. It was two really well-coached teams competing with each other."

THE MANAGERS

One has more hair than he needs, the other doesn't have as much as he'd like.

One was sporting a leather jacket, Cuban heels, an outsized belt buckle and a shirt that was open by a couple of buttons too many, the other was in his club-issue tracksuit and his usual Millers pom-pom hat.

But appearances are the only real difference between Wycombe's guitar-playing, rock 'n' roll boss, Gareth Ainsworth, and his more understated Rotherham counterpart.

Similar in size, similar in outlook, they're both old pros who care about their players and get a better tune out of them than anyone could reasonably expect.

The warmth between the pair was evident in their shared hugs and swapped compliments as they conducted a Sky Sports interview together on the touchline an hour before kick-off.

Afterwards, Ainsworth said it was better point for Rotherham than the Chairboys and Warne agreed.

Richard Wood makes his presence felt in the opposition penalty area

"It might be the one that makes the difference at the end of the season," the Millers leader said.

"If you want to up as champions or automatically, you have to jump every hurdle that's put in front of you. Wycombe asked us questions and I thought that, generally, we answered them quite well."

With that, he wandered down the touchline towards the team bus and turned to his phone; no selfies this time, just revisiting the results elsewhere, confirming a truth that very much suited his club.

On a day that could have seen a huge swing in the promotion battle, nothing had changed at all.

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Attendance: 5,742 (988)

The Millers

Formation: 3-5-2

Josh Vickers: 7

Made a sharp save early on. After that, he had a quiet afternoon but was polished in everything he did.

Angus MacDonald: 8

His best display since his comeback. Let very little get past him, won his headers and threw himself into blocks and tackles.

Richard Wood: 8

The leader. Or the 'sergeant major' as Wycombe's manager described him. The Millers had to work hard for their clean sheet and the skipper was at the heart of their defiance.

Michael Ihiekwe: 8

A strong, all-round performance. Did his job on the deck and in the air. All three of Rotherham's centre-halves were on top of their games and there was little to choose between them.

Wes Harding: 7

Not Chieo-style lively as a right wing-back but still lively. Carried the ball well and delivered some decent balls into the box.

Ben Wiles: 6

He's had more effective outings but there are good moments in every performance from a talented player. Dangerous when he ran at Wycombe.

Dan Barlaser: 6

Too much head tennis going on for a man of his culture. Not scared to put in the graft but this wasn't a afternoon that brought out his craft. Good on set-pieces. But then we all take that as a 'given'.

Ollie Rathbone: 7

Won his midfield battle with Millers loan old boy Lewis Wing. Had a bit of spark about him all afternoon

Shane Ferguson: 6

Love this lad, but I've seen him play better. Not terrible by any means but his feet didn't twinkle quite like they can.

Michael Smith: 6

The physical battle between him and Anthony Tafazolli ended about even. Had the Millers' best chances to score.

Chiedozie Ogbene: 6

Was immediately more of a threat when he was moved from unfamiliar central role to more familiar surroundings on the right flank. Exploited the extra room out there to good effect.

The subs

Joe Mattock (for Harding 83):

Steady Eddie, solid Joe. Slipped into the defence without a problem as Rotherham started to settle for a draw.

Mickel Miller (for Ferguson 60): 6

One or two dangerous runs and crosses. Him on one wing and Ogbene on the other will cause all teams problems. Has a vital part to play in the run-in. Fingers cross he stays fit.

Not used: Viktor Johansson, Rarmani Edmonds-Green, Hakeem Odoffin, Jordi Osei-Tutu, Josh Kayode.

Wycombe (4-3-2-1): David Stockdale 7; Jason McCarthy 7, Anthony Stewart 8, Ryan Tafazolli 7, Joe Jacobson 7; Lewis Wing 5, Sam Scowen 7, Daryl Horgan 6; Garath McCleary 7, Anis Mehmeti 6 (Brandon Hanlan 73); Sam Vokes 7 (Adebayo Akinfenwa 77). Subs not used: Tyla Dickinson, Jack Grimmer, David Wheeler, Jack Young, Chris Forino.

Referee: Craig Hicks (Surrey): 7

Opposition view

“I thought it was two points dropped. I'm frustrated that we didn’t score. There is no shame drawing with the league leaders.

“We’ve added another point onto our total and that point could get us into the play-offs at the end of the season. That’s how I am looking at it.

"Paul Warne is a very good manager and he is very organised.

“He has been crediting me for being organised, and I am proud of that, but he is very, very organised.

“When you have got someone like Richard Wood, who is like a sergeant major, organising your defence, it pays dividends."

- Chairboys boss Gareth Ainsworth

The stats

Possession: Wycombe 54 per cent, Millers 46 pc

Goal attempts: Wycombe 12, Millers 12

On target: Wycombe 1, Millers 4

Corners: Wycombe 2, Millers 2

Fouls: Wycombe 10, Millers 12

Final word

Vital not to lose. Rotherham got the job done on a day both teams knew they'd been in a game.

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PLAYER VERDICT

"It's always a tough place to come to. We knew what kind of game it would be, we knew we had to be up for the fight and match them, especially in the first half.

"We were the better team in the first half, I'd say. We ground it out in the second half.

We'll take it as a good point, particularly as MK Dons didn't win.

"We've got two home games coming up. Football doesn't always work out this way, but it's a good chance to get six points."

- Michael Ihiekwe