The injustice, the missing Covid clan and the brave attempt to defy the odds ... the story of Rotherham United 1 Barnsley 2

The injustice, the missing Covid clan and the brave attempt to defy the odds ... the story of Rotherham United 1 Barnsley 2

By Paul Davis | 29/12/2020

The injustice, the missing Covid clan and the brave attempt to defy the odds ...  the story of Rotherham United 1 Barnsley 2
Kyle Vassell in action against Barnsley. Picture by Jim Brailsford

JUST six of them. On a bench built for nine.

There were empty seats in the dugout just as there were in the deserted stands at AESSEAL New York on a bleak, freezing Tuesday night when the temperature was biting almost as hard as Covid-19.

Rotherham United v Barnsley. Cases of coronavirus in the Millers camp, only 48 hours to prepare after squad isolation, concerns about player welfare, yet a derby the donkeys at the EFL decided had to go ahead.

The home substitutes huddled in their hats and extra layers trying to fending off the cold. The fact they were so thin in numbers - and that one of them had come out of quarantine only on the day of the match - damned the occasion and damaged the Championship as a fair footballing competition.

The Millers lost narrowly, fighting back gamely following the interval after two early Barnsley goals had appeared to have dashed any hope of an against-all-odds outcome.

They had chances to equalise but couldn't take them and, to add to their sense of injustice, they go into the New Year in the drop zone after slipping into the bottom three for the first time this season.

"I knew it would be a bit 'agricultural' tonight, that it wouldn't be one for the purists," manager Paul Warne said.

"The first chance they get, they put away, which is disappointing, and the second they put away really well. I thought it was going to rock the lads.

"We'd spent a lot of time talking to them about positive thoughts and that it was a derby and it meant a lot to a lot people. We were competing but we didn't have much quality.

"We changed it at half-time, putting Smudge (Michael Smith) on. That gave us more physical presence at the top of the pitch.

"We created enough in the second half to possibly come away with a point. Freddie had a good chance. Hirsty had a really good chance."

It didn't help Rotherham's cause that Barnsley are a good side and one of the form teams in the division, having now won five of their last six outings.

The Millers could have been ahead inside two minutes as Kyle Vassell was sprung clear down the left only to be denied by a sharp Jack Walton stop but the visitors soon asserted their authority.

Warne's men found themselves a goal down as Alex Mowatt provided the pass for Cauley Woodrow to fire clinically into the far corner.

Their problems quickly worsened as provider turned finisher, Mowatt taking advantage of time and space to curl a fine effort beyond Viktor Johansson.

Freddie Ladapo might have reduced the arrears on 23 minutes with a shot on the turn that was kept out by Walton.

Three players missed out because they were self-isolating while two others made the squad but were physically diminished by the virus's effects.

With five long-term injuries  also to take into consideration, the starting 11 looked surprisingly strong, but a background of two recent postponed matches and little training meant the build-up to the encounter had hardly been ideal.

Warne had said on the eve of the match that, such was the Covid disruption, that for the first time in his managerial career he wasn't sure what he'd get from his players.

A brave, committed effort that, in horrible circumstances, just wasn't quite enough. That's what he got.

"One hundred per cent from me, in a fairer world this match wouldn't have taken place," the boss said. "I'm all about training and preparation and we've been denied that.

"I feel sorry for the lads. That wasn't them at their best tonight but they still nearly took a point from one of the top, in-form sides in the league.

"We've been really transparent. I know other teams have called off numerous games. It was made very clear to me what the potential risk was and it wasn't a risk we could take.

"I feel upset and a bit angry. Rules  are there and we have respected them. I feel a little bit hard done by."

Florian Jozefzoon in a front three hadn't worked. His half-time replacement, Smith, transformed the second period and needed only 12 minutes to make a telling impact, heading home a Dan Barlaser corner for his third goal in three outings.

Ladapo should have equalised almost immediately but screwed a shot with his left foot agonisingly wide.

Victor Adeboyejo passed up an equally-inviting opportunity for Barnsley before another sub, George Hirst, was close to his first Rotherham goal with a 68th-minute back-post header from Ben Wiles' cross and then completely fluffed an 83rd-minute scissor kick.

Johansson kept the Millers alive with a save from Woodrow's volley when a free-kick was swung in, but his teammates, despite giving everything, couldn't provide any last-gasp glory at the other end.

"I'm pleased with the second half but it doesn't feel like a good night because I've seen how the other results have gone," Warne said. "Barnsley are running over teams and have been scoring late goals.

"Tonight, even though we've trained two days in 11 and aren't as sharp as I would like, we were causing danger towards the end.

"Some of my players turned up tonight to play when others possibly wouldn't have. They put their bodies on the line when some of them were obviously jaded. The lads could have crumbled but they didn't."

It would be easy to say this result doesn't matter, that bigger things were afoot at New York on Tuesday night than the outcome of a football match.

Only it does matter. The outcome of this match carries as much significance as any other and could have a major say on whether Rotherham are still a Championship side next season.

The Millers, riven by disease, let down by their governing body, honoured this fixture only because they felt compelled to to avoid the possibility of a points deduction.

Rotherham 1 Barnsley 2, December 29 2020: the game that should never have been played.

Goals: Woodrow 8, Mowatt 15 (Barnsley); Smith 57 (Rotherham).

Rotherham (3-4-3): Viktor Johansson; Wes Harding, Richard Wood (Trevor Clarke 81), Michael Ihiekwe; Matt Olosunde, Jamie Lindsay, Dan Barlaser, Ben Wiles; Florian Joezefzoon (Michael Smith H-T), Freddie Ladapo, Kyle Vassell (George Hirst 65). Subs not used: Jamal Blackman, Adam Thompson, Mickel Miller.

Barnsley (3-4-3): Jack Walton; Michael Sollbauer, Michal Helik, Mads Andersen; Callum Brittain, Matty James (Luke Thomas 75), Alex Mowatt (Jasper Moon 87), Callum Styles; Victor Adeboyejo, Cauley Woodrow, Dominik Frieser (Romal Palmer 75). Subs not used: Henry Kendrick, Clarke Oduor, Herbie Kane, Isaac Christie-Davies, George Miller, Patrick Schmidt.

Referee: Stephen Martin (Staffordshire).

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