THEY saluted him, he saluted them.
Kyle Vassell, the goal machine, the rediscovered man, was leaving the field after another spectacular strike had put table-topping Rotherham United on their way to their fifth successive League One victory.
AESSEAL New York Stadium rose in acclaim as the striker was substituted, offering sustained applause in recognition of the sustained contribution the 26-year-old is making now he has been let loose in his favourite role down the middle.
The appreciation rained down on the pitch and Vassell paused on his long, slow walk to the dug-out, He raised his arms and, turning to three sides of the ground, clapped back.
He was milking it a bit, of course he was, and he deserved to. After a frustrating first Millers season spent on the wing or on the treatment table, he can't stop scoring and his side can't stop winning.
Vassell has struck five times in his last five outings to help fire Rotherham to the summit of the third tier and manager Warne said: "He's done really well."
Everyone has done really well since the Millers, who were already in play-off contention anyway, switched to 4-4-2 last month and began their march into top spot.
Rotherham are League One's top scorers. Since the start of December only Manchester City have scored more times in the entire Football League.
"If you play two up front and get the ball into the box you've got a right chance of winning a game," Warne said.
"Smudge (Michael Smith) is now on ten goals, Freddie (Ladapo) has 12. All the strikers are on song. The difficulty is trying to keep all three of them happy."
The cheers followed Vassell all the way to the touchline.
This was his moment. Yet the day belonged to someone else ...
"His second-half performance won us the game."
Warne was talking about the fastest man in football, Chiedozie Ogbene, who created two goals and scored the third in Saturday's 3-0 demolition of Bristol Rovers.
Ogbene had arrived at New York full of smiles, hand in hand with his partner on the afternoon of their fifth anniversary, happily posing for photographs and signing autographs for fans.
That famous grin was on even fuller beam after his superb crosses had set up headed goals for Vassell and Smith and he'd rounded off an uplifting second period by opening his account for the club.
'Unplayable' ... Chiedozie Ogbene
"His goal was a reward for his second-half performance," said Warne. "He was unplayable.
"His crossing was really good. That pleased me because we've worked hard on that at the training ground.
"We got in good positions in the first half but the final ball in wasn't the best. Second half ... well, Chieo will have a great career if he continues playing at that level."
In a forgettable first half, Millers old boy Jonson Clarke-Harris should have put Bristol in front in only the third minute of his first return to New York but the attacker directed a simple chance wide.
After the break, Rotherham were, well, Rotherham. Balls went wide, balls were played into the box and the visitors, like other sides before them, were over-run by pace, power and ceaseless, front-foot application.
Two goals in two early second-half minutes settled the contest. The Millers were in full flight, the crowd were in full voice, promotion songs were sung, Tony Stewart was asked for a wave and the chairman was delighted to oblige.
Warne roared, only for once this didn't mean tears. It was a wild, animalist, full-time yell of aggression and satisfaction after a job well done.
"In the first half we didn't move the ball quickly enough," the boss said. "We looked a bit laboured. Sometimes we were trying to be over-elaborate. First half, Bristol worked really hard out of possession.
"It was a bit of a warning for the dressing room really that we can't keep starting like that at home. I thought we were really good in the second half. We looked a bit more like us.
Anniversary boy Ogbene arrives at New York
"We didn't use our speed in the first half. We did in the second. No disrespect to Bristol but I think they'd have taken a point beforehand. We need to get a goal earlier. It would be much better for my blood pressure!
"The first-half display today against a top team wouldn't have been enough. I was happy to get in at half-time at 0-0, but our second-half performance justified the win."
Vassell hardly ever does tap-ins. Four of his five goals have been things of beauty and his flashing, 51st-minute header from Ogbene's devastating supply was another to be filed away in the drawer marked 'spectacular'.
He smiled as he celebrated and actually laughed with Matt Crooks when the midfielder tried and failed to replicate the centre-forward's stunning overhead kick against Peterborough United three weeks ago.
Such light-heartedness is a rare thing from a player who looked like he'd just been handed strike partner Smith's jockstrap when he posed with the Sky Bet Goal of the Month trophy awarded for that Posh finish.
Ogbene waited for two minutes after the opening goal before crossing straight on to the head of the obliging Smith, then, just before the end, the winger was in the right place at the right time when substitute Freddie Ladapo's shot was parried by the diving Jordi van Stappershoef
"I didn't really dig out the lads at half-time," Warne said. "I always ask them what they think, then I tell them what I think, then we come to an agreement that I'm right.
"They performed a lot better in the second half. I've said to the lads in the dressing room afterwards: 'Sometimes Liverpool and Manchester City go back to front and cause a problem.'
"Our strikers and wingers are so mobile that on virtually every ball in the second half that was a clearance we were getting in."
The result showed just how much progress the Millers have made since starting the season with a new side.
Bristol were just the kind of game, limited, men-behind-the-ball opposition they had struggled to see off at home earlier in the campaign but on this occasion Rovers were swept aside.
Warne was sharing in Ogbene's elation: "Everyone wants to score a goal. You have ten seconds where you feel invincible. It's the best feeling in the world.
Michael Smith celebrates his goal
"We always ask our wingers, if the ball is coming in from the other side, to get narrow. He did and for that little bit of effort he got his reward.
"You get that bit of luck if you push yourself and try to get in the right position. He deserved that today."
Opponents can't live with Ogbene. And, right now, the division can't live with Rotherham.
Julien Lamy has hardly ever played for the Millers yet supporters have really taken to him.
Never has a player enjoyed a ten-minute cameo more than the French winger.
He couldn't hide his joy at being given just his second taste of league action and his was the only smile at New York bigger than Ogbene's.
He ran around and did his prospects of a third taste no harm at all before hugging anyone who stood in his way at the end including a member of the first-aid team.
He'd even looked happy when he was chopped down as he ran in on the penalty area late on.
"Julien has trained really well this week," Warne said. "We've all waxed lyrical about him. I say to the lads all the time that if you train well you've got a much better chance of being in the team.
"I thought Julien went on and looked really lively. He was really pleased to play, which was nice. It's nice to see people smile."
Vassell, shinpads gone, socks down, wrapped up in a warm coat, returned to the turf to join his teammates when hostilities were over.
In the second half, like every other Miller, he'd been very, very good.
Or tres, tres bien as a certain giddy wide man busy giving out his signature to the West Stand might say.
There was a standing ovation for the team. However, it was the one reserved for Vassell in the 73rd minute that resonated the most.
He's not always been a favourite but has now been taken to New York hearts.
That moment of unity, the mutual regard between supporters and player, was a symbol of where Rotherham are and what has helped them to get there.
A team in top spot, a club as one.
Rotherham (4-4-2): Dan Iversen; Matt Olosunde, Michael Ihiekwe, Richard Wood, Ben Wiles; Chiedozie Ogbene, Matt Crooks (Jamie Lindsay 79), Dan Barlaser, Hakeeb Adelakun (Julien Lamy 83); Kyle Vassell (Freddie Ladapo 73), Michael Smith. Subs not used: Laurence Bilboe, Trevor Clarke, Shaun MacDonald, Jake Hastie.
Bristol Rovers (5-4-1): Jordi van Stappershoef; Alex Rodman, Rollin Menayese, Tony Craig, Alfie Kilgour (Tom Davies 74), Luke Leahy; Gavin Reilly, Ed Upson, Liam Sercombe (Ollie Clarke 59), Josh Barrett (Josh Ginnelly 71); Jonson Clarke-Harris. Subs not used: Alexis Andre, Tareiq Holmes-Dennis, Tom Nichols, Jayden Mitchell-Lawson.
Goals: Vassell 51, Smith 53, Ogbene 88 (Rotherham).
Referee: Leigh Doughty (Preston).
Attendance: 8,287 (338).
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