MILLERS 2 SCUNTHORPE 0, WEDNESDAY MAY 16 2018
RICHARD Wood couldn’t help himself.
Just seconds remained in the first half and teammate Will Vaulks was shaping to hurl in another of the long throws that had proved so deadly all season.
AESSEAL New York Stadium was packed on a Wednesday night, AESSEAL New York Stadium was holding its breath.
This was Rotherham United v Scunthorpe United in the second leg of the 2018 League One play-off semi-final.
The first leg had finished 2-2. The second was locked at 0-0. Something had to give.
Moments earlier, manager Paul Warne had told his centre-half and captain not to go forward as the Millers pushed for the lead, fearing Scunthorpe could hit his side on the counter-attack.
But now there was no time for the Iron to break out. Vaulks’ howitzer would be the last play of the half.
Safe in the knowledge that Rotherham couldn’t concede, Wood made his move.
“We’d had a long throw just before that and the Gaffer wouldn’t let me go up,” the player recalls. “I looked over and asked if I could get forward and he said ‘No, no, stay back.’
“The ball went straight back out for Will to throw it in long again. By now there were only seconds of the half left and I knew Scunthorpe couldn’t do anything so I just thought: ‘Sod this, the half is just about done. I might as well go up.’”
Vaulks launched the ball and the skipper launched all 6ft 3in of himself. Only one head was ever going to make contact. Bodies were in the net and so was the ball.
One-nil, and the soundtrack to the promotion campaign, ‘Richard Wood is magic’, was ringing out as the two teams headed down the tunnel for the interval.
Rotherham were up for the battle heading into the second-leg tussle for a date at Wembley.
Wood opens the scoring
They’d had the better of the Saturday clash four days earlier at Glanford Park, leading twice through Jon Taylor and substitute Joe Newell — who took a flying pie in the face after scoring in front of an exploding away end — before the home side had snatched a late leveller.
“What I really remember from the game at their place is a picture,” Wood says. “There’s a photo of their goalkeeper laid on the floor and Newelly is just stood up tall in front of all our fans.
“He’d just come and scored with his first touch. Richie Towell had tried a terrible overhead kick and then Newelly buried his finish when the ball fell to him.
“I also remember Haks (Hakeeb Adelakun) — who’s with us on loan now — going past Joe Mattock with an unbelievable nutmeg in the build-up to their first equaliser.
“On the Wednesday at New York for the second leg, I was very confident beforehand. I just knew that if we played as we had been doing we’d have no issues. We’d beaten Scunthorpe home and away in the league that season.
“All the lads were excited. We had that thought in the back of our minds: ‘Don’t let it slip. Don’t drop your focus.’ It had boiled down to a one-legged play-off because of the draw in the first match. It was a one-off game we had to win.”
Wood’s goal blew away the tension and let New York riotously live the dream. Only one team were earning a place at Wembley that evening and they were wearing red and white.
Vaulks doubled the advantage just past the hour mark but the crucial damage had been inflicted by the defender Warne had earlier in the season christened ‘Wrecking Ball’ for the havoc he was causing in opposition penalty areas.
“I didn’t look towards the Gaffer the second time and just went,” Wood says. “He didn’t say anything at half-time. He knew I wasn’t risking anything because the ref was about to blow.
“He was right to stop me going up for the first throw because there had still been time then for Scunthorpe to get at us.”
The second half passed in a blur and Wood can’t recollect the manner of Vaulks’ North-Stand strike or remember the Iron’s Rory McArdle being sent off. The only details to remain with him are the noise, the joyous, unremitting noise, thousands on the pitch and falling into the arms of his family at the final whistle.
Just as they’d raised the roof when he’d made the breakthrough, now supporters were raising the scorer himself.
“I’d experienced pitch invasions before but nothing like that,” he says. “A lot of fans ran to me because I’d scored and I’m up on their shoulders. It was unbelievable.
“My missus and lads were stood in the West Stand and I managed to go over to them and give them all a big cuddle. I’ve got pictures of me cuddling them that I think were taken by the club photographer, Jim (Brailsford).
On the balcony with his boys, Jenson and Graye
“Other than the final at Wembley, the celebrations that night were my favourite moment of the season.
“Everybody in the dressing room was shouting and dancing. There were no wives or girlfriends in there. I think it was just the players and the staff ... and my two boys!
“They’d come into the dressing room with me after we’d hugged and then they followed me up on to the balcony when the team went upstairs to salute the fans.
“The fans were singing my ‘magic’ song and my lads loved it.”
The centre-half, as everyone knows, went on to score twice at Wembley and lead his team to promotion against Shrewsbury Town in the ‘Richard Wood Final’.
But all of that might not have happened without that last-gasp first-half dart into enemy territory at New York.
“On the video, you can see me jogging up,” he says. “I’ve got to the edge of the box, Will’s thrown it in and I’ve just gone and attacked it.”
Only one head was ever going to make contact. Bodies were in the net and so was the ball.
As the man himself grins: “A typical Wood goal!”
ROTHERHAM (4-1-4-1): Rodak; Emmanuel, Ihiekwe (Ajayi 51), Wood, Mattock; Palmer; Williams (Taylor 68), Towell, Vaulks, Newell (Forde 89); Smith: Subs not used: Price, Purrington, Ball, Lavery.
SCUNTHORPE (4-2-3-1): Watson; Vermijl, McArdle, Wallace, Townsend; Yates (Hopper 83), Ojo; Morris, Holmes, Adelakun (McGeehan 62); Toney (Novak 80). Subs not used: Kelsey, Bishop, Burgess, Sutton.
GOALS: Wood 45+2, Vaulks 63 (Rotherham).
SENT OFF: McArdle (Scunthorpe 77).
REFEREE: Scott Duncan. (Northumberland).
ATTENDANCE: 11,061 (1,202).
FEARED hitman Ivan Toney was in the Scunthorpe United side for both legs of the 2018 League One play-off semi-final but couldn’t get the better of Rotherham United’s rearguard.
He remained goalless throughout the ties and the free-scoring striker, now with
Peterborough United and valued around the £10-million mark, also failed to register in the sole league game he played against the Millers that season.
“We kept Toney quiet in the play-offs,” captain and centre-half Richard Wood says. “As a team, we’ve generally played well against him over the last few years, although he did score for Peterborough at their place against us this season.”
The forward, who had been on loan at Scunthorpe from top-flight Newcastle United when he came up against Paul Warne’s side in the play-offs, had hit 28 goals this League One season before the coronavirus pandemic saw the suspension of the football programme.
“He’s a very good player who is likely to be sold for millions,” Wood says. “His goal record is excellent, but our defence coped with him really well in that 2017/18 season.”