The 16th minute, the applause, Charlie's Day ... the story of Rotherham United 1 Oxford United 2

By Paul Davis | 20/10/2019

The 16th minute, the applause, Charlie's Day ... the story of Rotherham United 1 Oxford United 2
The minute's applause for Charlie Hunter. Match pictures by Dave Poucher

THE opening goal flew in after 23 minutes, an equaliser followed on 35, a winner came in the 57th.

Shouts for a penalty went unanswered in the 25th, the home side almost bagged an undeserved leveller in the 91st.

These were footnotes on a day when other things touched the soul more than football.

The 16th minute at AESSEAL New York Stadium is what Saturday October 19 2019 will be truly remembered for.

The 16th minute, when all four sides of the ground rose in uplifting applause for Millers supporter Charlie Hunter, taken suddenly, unexpectedly and too soon at the age of 16.

Charlie Hunter

Her family wore red-and-white shirts with 'Charlie 16' on the back as Rotherham United said farewell to one of their own

Manager Paul Warne wore funereal black and was close to breaking down in his press conference after the League One clash with Oxford United.

"Yeah," he said, and a long pause ensued. "It's hard for me to talk about it. For anyone to lose a child ..."

His voice cracked but he managed to continue: "I'd like to thank the Oxford fans because they clapped as well. It's nice that everyone, absolutely everyone, stood up and clapped. I clapped. All the people on my bench clapped."

Rotherham lost the game 2-1.

We all lost something when we heard about Charlie's death.

We all gained something when New York unified so gloriously to mourn a young life passed, to celebrate a young life lived.

THE MATCH

At half-time, there was everything to play for. The score was 1-1 and both sides were capable of hurting the other.

By the end, Rotherham's three-match winning run was over, the U's had extended their own unbeaten record to nine matches and the Millers had been shown what it takes to be a play-off side.

Oxford were good, Warne's men less good than they have been in recent victories over Coventry City and Blackpool.

Too many players had off-days, too many crosses and passes failed to find their target and after pint-sized Matt Taylor had headed the visitors into a 57th-minute lead it was Karl Robinson's team who looked most likely to score again.

Michael Ihiekwe scores

"It was a game between two good sides. Both teams wanted to win it," Warne said. "I thought the first half was quite equal. I honestly thought that in the second half we would go out and win.

"They kept their attacks going better than we did. Our keeper saved us a few times. I just felt that in the final third our crosses and set-pieces weren't right.

"I didn't feel we were as fluent on the ball as we can be. I put on wingers with pace but we just didn't get the ball out to them enough. When we did, they didn't win their one-v-ones as much as I'd have liked."

Tariqe Fosu-Henry, the game's most dangerous player, fired Oxford into a 23rd-minute lead from 20 yards and moments later at the other end Chris Cadden kept out Jake Hastie's shot with a combination of leg and hand.

"The lads were adamant at half-time it was handball on the goalline," Warne said. "I thought it was a penalty but my eyes might tell me that because I want it to be one.

"I just looked at how our midfielder, Jamie Lindsay, reacted when it wasn't given. He was wild. At half-time, he was insistent it was a pen."

In its own way, Cadden's reaction, as he slipped surreptitiously away, keeping his head down, said as much as Lindsay's.

Warne, meanwhile, was bothered by something else.

He had to compose himself again as he thought of Charlie, of his own children, of the vulnerability that loving them brings.

"There is nothing worse than losing a child," he said. "And at 16 ...  it's heartbreaking. I know the fact that the entire crowd gave a standing ovation won't take away any of the pain her family are going through but I just hope it helps in some small way.

"If I can, I will go to the funeral."

Oxford fans played a full and much-appreciated part in the tribute and home supporters repaid them in kind in the 66th minute when the away contingent commemorated U's follower Andy James.

Michael Ihiekwe brought Rotherham level in the 35th minute, driving 50 yards into opposition territory, passing to Michael Smith and then heading home when Smith's cross reached him via Matt Crooks' header.

Oxford's winning goal

Taylor's second-half intervention was enough to settle the contest and the Millers had to wait until added time before mustering another effort on target, when Matt Olosunde's cross was deflected and Simon Eastwood was forced to save sharply and crucially at his near post.

Iversen saved from Cameron Brannagan before the break and produced a stunning stop to prevent Taylor making it 3-1 while Fosu-Henry shot wastefully wide with almost the last kick of the game.

"For us to concede a headed goal scored by possibly the smallest player on the pitch is tough to take," Warne said. "I didn't expect that and I'm disappointed with that.

"At half-time, we told the lads to get in and around Smudge (Smith). I thought he was having a really good game.

"We told them where we thought the space was to get at Oxford when we won the ball back and told them to back themselves. Had we just upped it a bit, we might have had enough."

Defeat left Rotherham in 11th spot, still within striking distance of the top six with a game in hand.

"I'm disappointed we lost but we're still only three points off the play-offs," Warne said. "We've lost to a very good team. They're on the best run in the division. They've got threats all over the pitch. They had a little bit more than we did in the final third."

LOSING

Appropriately, the weather also turned up to pay its respects.

As the applause crackled in the air, angry clouds vied for space with the autumn sun. The dark and the light. Someone gone but everyone coming together.

Warne choked for a fourth time: "I'm sorry my team didn't win for her."

Losing mattered, of course it mattered. Charlie and her dad, Ian 'Sid' Hunter, were season-ticket-holders because it matters. They travelled to away games because it matters.

For once, on Charlie's Day, it just didn't matter quite as much.

This was an afternoon when two of the things she cherished above all others combined to create a perfect third.

Millers. Family. Millers family.

Rotherham (4-4-1-1): Dan Iversen; Matt Olosunde, Michael Ihiekwe, Richard Wood, Joe Mattock; Ben Wiles, Jamie Lindsay, Dan Barlaser (Chiedozie Ogbene 66), Jake Hastie (Julien Lamy 77); Matt Crooks (Carlton Morris 72); Michael Smith. Subs not used: Lewis Price, Billy Jones, Trevor Clarke, Shaun MacDonald.

Oxford (4-1-2-3): Simon Eastwood; Chris Cadden, Elliott Moore, John Mousinho, Josh Ruffels; Alex Rodgriguez-Gorrin; James Henry (Sam Long 90+1), Cameron Brannagan; Mark Sykes (Shandon Baptiste 74), Matt Taylor (Jamie Mackie 86), Tariqe Fosu-Henry. Subs not used: Jack Stevens, Robert Hall, Daniel Agyei, Nico Jones.

Goals: Ihiekwe 35 (Rotherham); Fosu-Henry 23, Taylor 57 (Oxford).

Referee: Scott Oldham (Lancashire).

Attendance: 8,837 (734).

 


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