The fans, Paul Warne, Steve Evans and the lob from heaven as the Millers do it for the kitman ... the story of Gillingham 0 Rotherham United 3

By Paul Davis | 03/11/2019

The fans, Paul Warne, Steve Evans and the lob from heaven as the Millers do it for the kitman ... the story of Gillingham 0 Rotherham United 3
Matt Crooks celebrates his wonder-goal. Pictures by Trevor Price

AS farewell bashes go, this was a wild one.

More than 350 people turned up for a party in the away end at Priestfield Stadium.

Rotherham United had just beaten Gillingham 3-0 to extend their amazing away record and give kitman Steve McVann, working his final ever game, a fitting send-off.

Forget the nine-hour round trip, forget the rain, forget the wind, the Millers fans were in the mood for a jolly.

McVann was nowhere to be seen at the final whistle, a quiet man quietly going about his business and avoiding any fuss.

However, manager Paul Warne is anything but a quiet man. After two goals from Matt Crooks and one from Michael Smith had moved Rotherham to within two points of the League One play-off places, he led the celebrations on McVann's behalf.

Michael Smith scores

"Steve is a top bloke and he is retiring," the boss said. "I asked the lads to play for him and give him a performance that would make him proud.

"I think the lads did that. Steve is a true Miller. It's sad to see him go but at least he's gone out on a win."

Warne is often more reflective than raucous after a success but there was no stopping him on Saturday as he danced in delirium in front of the travelling faithful who sang his name and sang about promotion.

The Millers are up to tenth in the table, among a pack of clubs ready to strike for the top six. They have won their last three matches on the road and, overall, their eight league outings away from AESSEAL New York Stadium this season have brought five victories and a draw.

"The lads all had to shake Steve's hand before they left the dressing room to go out and play," Warne said. "I told them to remember he's the kind of person they play for."

The men wearing the kit did the damage.

The man who carried it was a major reason why.

THE GAME

Penalty. Michael Smith steps up. Spot-kick saved. Gillingham mix-up. Open net. Smith scores. In one crazy minute, how football saps the spirit and lifts the heart.

Rotherham were doing far more lifting than sapping against a Gills side managed by former Millers boss Steve Evans, playing the conditions and the percentages perfectly.

The 20th-minute penalty, given for a foul on Richard Wood, brought a good stop from Jack Bonham but seconds later the goalkeeper was powerless as teammate Connor Ogilvie needlessly pushed the ball past him on the edge of the area to offer Smith rapid atonement.

Paul Warne and Steve Evans, with kitman Steve McVann in the background

Twenty-three minutes after the Kamizake defending came a moment of beauty, Matt Crooks sending a 30-yard lob on a divine wind into the top of the net after being sprung clear by Jamie Lindsay's clever pass.

Sustained downpours had made for a slippy pitch but the 'number 10'  was so sure on his feet as he latched on to Lindsay's clever pass and and produced a Goal-of-the-Season contender. Appropriately, it came at the Rainham End.

"It was a really good performance," Warne said. "We've been good away from home. We just need to back it up at home.

"The conditions were difficult. Sometimes the wind took the ball past us, sometimes it held it up. It made it difficult to win the first ball.

"Gillingham put us under some pressure at the start of the second half. Whenever there was pressure, we stood up to it really well."

Kitman McVann might have been on his last shift but there was nothing retiring about Rotherham. Led by Lindsay's unbelievable effort and energy, they were at it, on it, going for it, a threat on the attack and strong at the back.

So many away wins and the division's second best defensive record aren't an accident.

The Millers got lucky just before Crooks' exquisite execution, the referee choosing to not even give a foul against Michael Ihiekwe when other officials might have brought out a red card for the centre-half's calculated tug on Brandon Hanlan just outside the area when the Gills attacker was racing in on goal.

But this wasn't a win built on fortune. Daniel Iversen had only one save to make, executed brilliantly in the 80th minute when he kept out Mark Byrne's fierce, low drive, and Crooks swept home the visitors' third goal two minutes from time from substitute Carlton Morris's supply.

Man of the Match Jamie Lindsay

"The character of my team can never be questioned," Warne said. "Maybe we don't take enough chances but the work ethic and the lads' willingness to try to win a football match isn't in doubt.

"The game was difficult on the eye at times. They were playing a diamond. We were trying to get outside that and leave our wingers one v one. We got in a few times in the first half. There was a war of attrition for about 15 minutes in the second half.

"Jamie was outstanding. He covered virtually every blade of grass. The subs came on and did well. The lads are really happy. I'm looking forward to the journey home."

Rotherham's home form remains a work in progress but every time they have done battle on opposition turf in the last month they have looked like a play-off side.

Sub Julien Lamy headed mistakenly for the away dressing room after the final whistle and had to be good-naturedly guided to the right door by Warne.

It was about the only foot the Millers put wrong all afternoon.

WARNE V EVANS

He was spoken to by the referee in the 14th minute, booked in the 25th and looked a shattered man in the 88th.

Evans was a picture of anger and disgust as he turned away when Crooks' second goal of the game and seventh of the campaign ended the contest

Warne, stood only feet away, contained his emotion. His body shook with delight but he restricted his show of joy to clenching both fists and briefly embracing assistant Richie Barker.

The joy was concealed and evident at the same time. Warne wants to win every game but this one, against the boss for whom he once worked as a fitness coach, had an extra edge.

There was no such restraint a few minutes later when he choreographed the scenes behind the goal where Crooks had just struck.

He was sharing himself with supporters and thinking about his kitman.

"When I'd done the talk after the game to the lads, I let Steve speak last. It was quite emotional, to be honest," the manager said.

"Steve is quiet, nice guy. He's a Rotherham fan. He's a really popular guy because he works selflessly for the lads.

"I said to them at half-time: 'Look, you've done half the job for Steve. All you've got to do now is keep him a clean sheet and he'll go home happy."

Crooks thought he'd had the final word in the 88th minute. He was wrong.

That honour would fall to McVann.

Gillingham (4-3-1-2): Jack Bonham; Jack Tucker (Mark Marshall 76), Max Ehmer, Connor Ogilvie, Tom O'Connor; Stuart O'Keefe, Alfie Jones, Mark Byrne; Regan Charles-Cook (Oliver Lee 67); Brandon Hanlan, Alex Jakubiak (Mikael Ndjoli 67). Subs not used: Simon Royce, Lee Hodson, Mikael Mandron, Ben Pringle.

Rotherham (4-4-1-1): Daniel Iversen; Billy Jones, Michael Ihiekwe, Richard Wood, Joe Mattock (Freddie Ladapo 87); Chiedozie Ogbene (Matt Olosunde 70), Ben Wiles, Jamie Lindsay, Trevor Clarke (Carlton Morris H-T); Matt Crooks; Michael Smith. Subs not used: Lewis Price, Dan Barlaser, Julien Lamy, Jake Hastie.

Goals: Smith 20, Crooks 43, 88 (Rotherham).

Referee: Lee Swabey (Devon).

Attendance: 4,893 (352).


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