The goal Dan Barlaser didn't want, the kitman, the booking for Paul Warne and the promotion intent ... the story of MK Dons 0 Rotherham United 3

The goal Dan Barlaser didn't want, the kitman, the booking for Paul Warne and the promotion intent ... the story of MK Dons 0 Rotherham United 3

By Paul Davis | 23/10/2021

The goal Dan Barlaser didn't want, the kitman, the booking for Paul Warne and the promotion intent ... the story of MK Dons 0 Rotherham United 3
Michael Smith claims it but did Dan Barlaser score it? The goal from the corner. Pictures by Jim Brailsford

THE dispute was raging after Rotherham United had demolished one of their promotion rivals.

Who had scored the second goal in a stunning victory brought about by the Millers' best display of the season?

It looked like the ball had gone straight in from Dan Barlaser's second-half corner, only Dan didn't want to claim it.

He was keen to hand it to fellow Geordie Michael Smith, the centre-forward who reckoned he'd got the merest of touches for his 11th strike in his campaign to get the 25 he needs this season to take assistant manager Richie Barker's framed, signed Alan Shearer shirt off him.

"I'll give it to Smudge," said Barlaser. "He's come over to me and said he's touched it  so I'll let him have it."

Later, it would transpire that the midfielder had reasons for being so generous. Not so much decent Dan as devious Dan ...

Manager Paul Warne didn't care whose name was going on the scoresheet. He was busy extolling the virtues of an all-round performance that had inflicted on sixth-placed MK only their second home loss in League One.

"That was a good away performance against a really good team," he said. "I thought we had flashes of absolute excellence.

"It was all down to the lads' dedication. Our out-of-possession stuff was absolutely frightening. The team had the game-plan on lockdown. It is one thing saying it in the classroom and another doing it on the pitch."

Rotherham, with a glint in their eye and fire in their hearts, fizzed with fitness, fight and finesse and hounded the Dons out of the contest.

Warne is often guarded in his praise after a win but there was no such caution after the home side had been made to buckle in Buckinghamshire.

"There are still things that we need to improve on, but that was pretty damn close to a faultless display," he said.

Unbeaten in nine games, eight clean sheets. Rotherham remained fifth but this was top-two form.


"Look at that," said Warne proudly.

He was high up in the stand being interviewed after Saturday's match when substitute goalkeeper Viktor Johansson wandered along the touchline with  a grin on his face and the tactics board and medical bag in his arms as he made his way to the coach.

No-one in the Millers squad is above helping out the kitman.

Michael Ihiekwe opens the scoring

It was that kind of humility and togetherness that underpinned an all-out team effort in which opponents were pressed in numbers and picked off one by one.

The visitors were already on top and could have led through Smith, whose lob hit the bar, and Ben Wiles, who curled an effort just wide, before Barlaser showed the unerring accuracy he demonstrated all afternoon to find Michael Ihiekwe and the centre-half's looping header provided a 28th-minute breakthrough.

Smith, undone by a heavy touch as he raced clear with only Dons keeper Andrew Fisher to beat and then aerially wayward at the back post from Shane Ferguson's set-up, should have extended the advantage.

MK's Zak Jules was even more profligate on the stroke of half-time with a header he should have buried but which flew off into the seats, taking the hopes of his side with it.

The second half belonged to Rotherham. They defended strongly when they had to, continually punched holes in the Dons' defence with their pace and precision and took total command when Barlaser's 66th-minute corner nestled in the net at the end where the 1,200-plus away following was gathered.

"Smudge needs it for the Shearer shirt," said Dan. "I think he can get the 25 if he keeps getting in the positions that he is doing.

"We thoroughly deserved the win and could have scored a couple more goals. But 3-0 away from home, you can't complain, can you?"

It finally emerged that he would rather be provider than poacher because it would take him to the top of the League One rankings for assists.

The Millers' attention to detail was paying off. They'd watched videos of MK and worked out one of the division's best passing teams wouldn't cope if they were forced on to the back foot.

They'd also sent their kitman, Eric Steers, to the ground early so he could set up the away dressing room, including laying a large Rotherham badge on the floor, and then share images in the players' WhatsApp group so they'd know what to expect when they arrived.

Two substitutes combined for the third goal, Mickel Miller dancing down the left and supplying Freddie Ladapo who beat Fisher with a low shot.

As the season is developing, the more you look, the fewer Rotherham weaknesses you find.

"I want our play to be athletic and the players have got to want to get crosses in the box and be a goal threat," Warne said. "I thought we had all of that.

"The lads have to have discipline out of possession and they had that as well. From a manager’s point of view, it can’t get much better.

"I thoroughly enjoy watching my team and spending time with them. I can allow myself to smile for 10 minutes. It was really enjoyable and that is how I want football to be played.

"I thought our performance was as good as it gets. I'd like to thank our fans who came. They were really good and stayed behind the team."

He paused and looked down to the pitch again. "Viktor taking the board and the  bag to the bus sums our club up more than anything I can say," he said.

Just then, keeper Josh Vickers emerged from the tunnel and headed for the exit carrying the club crest.


He didn't specify who he was talking about but it wasn't hard to work out.

"My only frustration is that someone's performance in the first half was the worst I have ever seen," Warne said. "Apart from that, it was a good day at the office."

That frustration boiled over to such an extent that he vented his ire on a plastic container after one decision too many from referee Christopher Sarginson and picked up the first yellow card of his managerial career for his trouble.

Paul Warne is a happy man even though a club fine will leave him £10 lighter

"Obviously I lost all control because I threw a bottle down - not near their fans, near my own feet," the boss said.

"The ref said to me afterwards he has never seen me like that and that I should be disappointed in myself for getting booked. I said to back to him that I am disappointed he didn't see a back-pass."

That would be the second-half incident when Sarginson allowed to go unpunished an MK ball back to the keeper picked up by Fisher.

"I have got a £10 club fine now that is going to come straight out of my wages," Warne added.

"I am disappointed I got booked. My mum will definitely text me her 'disappointed face' emoji and I will have to build bridges with my family for the rest of the week."

By now most organisations were crediting the goal to Barlaser who was still putting forward his case for Smudge and wondering if the club's media team could get in touch with Opta, Sky, the BBC and anyone else it might concern to ask them to change their minds.

"It's Dan's," said nearly everyone. "It's mine," insisted Smith. "It's Smith's," opined Barlaser. "Yes, Smith," said the stadium announcer. And so the debate rumbled on.

One topic was totally not up for dispute: just how good the Millers had been.

MK Dons (3-4-3): Andrew Fisher; Warren O'Hora, Harry Darling, Dean Lewington; Peter Kioso, Matt O'Riley, David Kasumu, Zak Jules (Tennai Watson 60); Hiram Boateng (Troy Parrott 63), Mo Eisa, Scott Twine. Subs not used: Franco Ravizzoli, Josh Martin, Aden Baldwin, Josh McEachran, Max Watters.

Rotherham (3-5-2): Josh Vickers; Rarmani Edmonds-Green, Michael Ihiekwe, Wes Harding; Chiedozie Ogbene, Ben Wiles, Dan Barlaser (Hakeem Odoffin 82), Ollie Rathbone, Shane Ferguson (Mickel Miller 71); Will Grigg (Freddie Ladapo 63), Michael Smith. Subs not used: Viktor Johansson, Richard Wood, Kieran Sadlier, Josh Kayode.

Goals: Ihiekwe 27, Barlaser 66, Ladapo 73 (Rotherham).

Referee: Christopher Sarginson (Staffordshire).

Attendance: 8,448 (1,242).

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