The frustration, the ref, Storm Dennis and the late penalty ... the story of Rotherham United 2 AFC Wimbledon 2

The frustration, the ref, Storm Dennis and the late penalty ... the story of Rotherham United 2 AFC Wimbledon 2

By Paul Davis | 16/02/2020

The frustration, the ref, Storm Dennis and the late penalty ... the story of Rotherham United 2 AFC Wimbledon 2
Freddie Ladapo celebrates his goal. Pictures by Steve Mettam

"TOP of the league, you're having a laugh."

The gaggle of AFC Wimbledon supporters could barely believe the scoreline as 20th place somehow led the leaders and were taunting home fans.

That was early in the second half when chance after chance had gone begging for Rotherham United and the visitors had scored with their only effort on target.

Suddenly, normal business was resumed at AESSEAL New York Stadium. Matt Crooks, 1-1, Freddie Ladapo, 2-1. As the clock ticked down, Paul Warne's side were heading for a ninth win in ten League One matches.

Now, Millers followers were indeed having a laugh. The songs were sung and the weather brought by Storm Dennis was a mere inconvenience as the North Stand whooped, hollered and Pumped It Up.

Then came the penalty.

Three minutes into stoppage time, Joe Pigott fell under an aerial challenge from Adam Thompson, the referee pointed to the spot and Rotherham's run of five successive home league victories was over.

Hit by a sucker-punch, Warne sucked it up.

"On another day, we might have romped away with it and it might have been 4 or 5-1, but it was not to be," the manager said. "In fairness to Wimbledon, they stuck to their task and made it really difficult for us. They came to frustrate us, I understand that.

"I thought we were really good and I was really pleased with how we played. I thought we played better than we did in the two previous games and created enough opportunities to win the game comfortably. We were nice and patient on the ball at times.

Michael Smith goes close in the first half

"We needed that third goal. When you are in the 90th-odd minute, you think that will be enough. It was obviously disappointing to concede so late on.

"The dressing room was the quietest I have ever known it. The lads know it was one of those games that got away."

Rotherham have won eight and drawn three of their last 12 league outings yet, with rivals also in form, it's becoming ever tighter at the summit of the table.

The elements suited a side just above the drop zone more than it did one pushing for promotion but Warne was making no excuses.

"It was the same for both teams. I am not going to complain," he said. "It was a bit monsoon-like for the last 15 minutes. It was biblical conditions at times. I'd like to think it was an entertaining game for the people who came to watch."

In the meantime, we had an official running around strewing errors here, there and everywhere like the litter blowing up, down and across the pitch.

THE MATCH

Wimbledon survived Saturday’s storm. They were battered, bent and lashed by the Millers in the same manner that New York was by Dennis's high winds and slanting rain.

Rotherham could have been out of sight by half-time but Joe Day, having already denied Hakeeb Adelakun, amazingly palmed away Michael Smith's header and then saved again when Smith was clean through and should have scored.

The home team found the net in the mass scramble that followed Smith's header but the ref saw reason to disallow the goal.

After Max Sanders put max power and max accuracy on a thumping 25-yarder to give Wimbledon a shock 30th-minute advantage, only the heroics of Day kept out Adam Thompson's fierce shot before Crooks wastefully fired the loose ball over the bar.

Warne said: "At half-time, I went in and said to the lads: 'Keep going, just be patient, you have created enough chances to be 3-1 up.' Wimbledon scored a wonderful goal. It went in like a rocket."

Dan Barlaser was a model of unhurried, cold-eyed composure in the Millers midfield, the only man on either side playing like there was no wind at all.

His long pass on the hour mark allowed Kyle Vassell to cause havoc in the visiting defence and free up the space for Crooks to drive in his 11th goal of the campaign.

Rotherham were playing into the teeth of the near-gale in the second half and substitute Ladapo immediately blew hot, whipping a sweet, left-footed volley into the corner of the Wimbledon net only ten minutes after his 71st-minute introduction.

That made Dan Iversen's sharp, near-post stop from Pigott 15 minutes earlier look even more important.

Warne didn't want to talk about the 14-goal leading marksman's instant impact. "He gets paid to score goals," said the boss in a way that invited no further questions. "It was good. I was pleased for him."

Wimbledon's keeper had kept the Londoners in the contest but it looked like it wouldn't be Joe's Day at all when teammate Mads Bech Sorensen steered a golden chance wide in the 89th minute.

Two, five ... Matt Crooks on the scoresheet again and paying tribute to his friend, Jordan Sinnott, who died last month aged 25

That was until Pigott fell in the 93rd minute, Kwesi Appiah was as cold-eyed and composed as Barlaser from the spot and the away fans reignited their mocking chant.

Warne had much more to say about the incident that stopped his team opening up a two-point gap over their closest challengers.

"As soon as the body went down, I had a funny feeling that the referee might give it," he said. "From where I was, it looked like a foul.

"My only complaint is that when you watch it back on TV there is an identical foul on Woody (Richard Wood) just before. He was in front of his man and got pushed over. I don't think the referee saw it.

"Sometimes you get those calls, sometimes you don't. That's disappointing, but you know what I am like - I am a fatalist. It was meant to be Wimbledon's day to get a point and I can't complain.

"If I was the attacking team, I'd want a penalty. But when I have watched it back you can see two identical fouls. For whatever reason, the foul on their player had more credence than the one on mine."

There was just time for a bit more perspective before he headed off to watch home-town team Norwich City play Liverpool on TV: "I will wake up tomorrow and see a draw and a point, not a defeat. Then I will think that some teams picked up no points."

THE REFEREE

Michael Ihiekwe got their first, Wood stayed the longest. Crooks, Jamie Lindsay and Josh Koroma all also had something to say to ref Michael Salisbury after the final whistle.

There was a time, only a couple of years ago, when I'd mention officials in match reports maybe twice a season. These days it's almost every week.

Ironically, the decision that caused Rotherham most misery was one of the few Salisbury got right.

He was poorer for the Millers but also let down Wimbledon early on when he failed to award a spot-kick for Wood's push on Scott Wagstaff.

Like so many other refs before him this season, he was loudly booed off.

Warne had one final lament: "We didn't really take our chances like we should have done. Our play deserved all three points."

The late blow was cruel. Undeserved. Now and again, even when you're the team everyone else is chasing, results like this happen.

As the penalty went in, three sides of New York were as silent as the Millers dressing room would be a few minutes later.

Not having a laugh anymore.

But still top of the league.

Rotherham (4-4-2): Dan Iversen; Adam Thompson, Michael Ihiekwe, Richard Wood, Ben Wiles; Chiedozie Ogbene (Jamie Lindsay 90), Dan Barlaser, Matt Crooks, Hakeeb Adelakun (Josh Koroma 71); Kyle Vassell (Freddie Ladapo 71), Michael Smith. Subs not used: Laurence Bilboe, Joe Mattock, Shaun MacDonald, Matt Olosunde.

Wimbledon (3-4-2-1): Joe Day; Luke O'Neill, Terrell Thomas, Mads Bech Sorensen; Shane McLoughlin (Kwesi Appiah 83), Max Sanders, Callum Reilly, Paul Osew; Scott Wagstaff (Mitch Pinnock 73), Jack Rudoni (Rod McDonald 90+4); Joe Pigott. Subs not used: Nathan Trott, Anthony Hartigan, Adam Roscrow, Nesta Guinness-Walker.

Goals: Crooks 60, Ladapo 81 (Rotherham); Sanders 30, Appiah pen 90+3 (Wimbledon).

Referee: Michael Salisbury (Lancashire).

Attendance: 8,626 (248).



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