The late penalty joy, the last-gasp spot-kick heartache, Liam Gallagher and the growing sense that the Millers belong in the Championship ... the story of Birmingham City 1 Rotherham United 1

The late penalty joy, the last-gasp spot-kick heartache, Liam Gallagher and the growing sense that the Millers belong in the Championship ... the story of Birmingham City 1 Rotherham United 1

By Paul Davis | 27/09/2020

The late penalty joy, the last-gasp spot-kick heartache, Liam Gallagher and the growing sense that the Millers belong in the Championship ... the story of Birmingham City 1 Rotherham United 1
Kieran Sadlier celebrates after putting the Millers in front. Pictures by Jim Brailsford

HE was high, he was low, he was high, he was low.

Manager Paul Warne predicts a roller-coaster season for Rotherham United and new boy Kieran Sadlier is already experiencing the thrills and spills of what could be a compelling Championship campaign.

The summer signing won the training-ground competition to be the Millers' first-choice penalty-taker, then lost his place for the trip to Birmingham City.

He came off the bench to score from 12 yards, thinking he'd bagged a late winner, only to watch in horror when the home team converted a spot-kick of their own to snatch a draw as the match was slipping into stoppage time.

Ther winger's 86th-minute strike was as emphatic as Rotherham's first-half superiority had been at St Andrew's on Saturday.

"We've had arguments about who should be taking penalties," Warne said. "Strikers always want them.

"We had a little tournament the other day after training and Sads was by far the best penalty-taker. Our keepers got absolutely nowhere near any of his. He's a confident player, a very good technical player."

1-0 to Rotherham

The boss was talking on the touchline half an hour after the final whistle. The incessant hum of the groundsman's mower was almost drowning out his message but his team are making the right noises for him after last year's promotion.

They have taken four points from their opening three matches. In their last two, they've been more than competitive against established second-tier sides, and they're starting to believe in themselves.

Warne is demanding more of that belief from his 14th-placed side.

"I thought we were excellent in the first half," he said. "We moved the ball really well.

"I could be standing here with seven points, I'm stood with four so I am disappointed. However, Birmingham came at us in the second half and the lads defended really well.

"To concede only a penalty and a slipped effort from Icky (Michael Ihiekwe) last week after three games is promising. But we need to to take our chances.

"I wanted us to go up another level. I think the lads are better than what they think. We tell them how great they are all of the time, but we have to keep building them up and building them up."

THE MATCH

The microphone was a bit on the low side as the boss addressed the media. Legs bent, hands behind his back, he looked for all the world like a tracksuited version of Oasis's Liam Gallagher

He'd altered players and formation to counter Birmingham strengths and exploit their weaknesses and a hard-fought game of two halves came down to a contest of two penalties.

"We made five changes, didn't we?" he said. "I asked the lads to play a different way. I thought we played really well and there were some outstanding performances.

"I thought we were on top in the first half considering we were away from home. We played really well and then second half, in fairness, I thought Birmingham were the better side and looked like the only team scoring.

Loan striker George Hirst makes an encouraging first start

"We had a few opportunities but nothing clear cut. To go 1-0 up with three minutes left in the Championship and then lose two points is a bitter blow. Those points are like two gold nuggets."

Angus MacDonald brought an early save from Neil Etheridge with a shot from distance, debutant Miller was off target after a driving, solo breakaway and Etheridge was a relieved man when a deflected effort from Ogbene, whose sharpness had poached possession from the home defence, flew only inches wide.

Rotherham goalkeeper Jamal Blackman kept out an Ivan Sanchez free-kick just before the break and, after it, clutched Ivan Sunjic's long-range drive, watched Jeremie Bela's shot curl wide and saw Lukas Jutkiewicz's looping header hit the bar as Birmingham improved in the second period.

Substitute Michael Smith should have put the Millers in front on 68 minutes from Shaun MacDonald's pinpoint corner but completely mistimed his far-post connection and was a picture of misery as he held his wayward head in his hands.

Then came the penalties, and Sadlier was as deadly as he'd been at Roundwood when Wiles was upended by Jeremie Bela

"I'm very confident in front of goal, especially from the spot," Sadlier said. "I took penalties during my three years in Ireland, although I didn't take them last season because Doncaster had a taker already.

"I went and got the ball and I picked my spot. I do practise them a lot in training. I'm happy, obviously, to get my first Championship goal. Hopefully it's the first of many."

Rotherham were going home with three points and Jon Toral was going nowhere in the 90th minute when Billy Jones, in for the injured Joe Mattock at left-back, challenged the City sub.

"They are both penalties," Warne said. "I'm disappointed with where theirs was conceded. He was right on the byline. I'm not here to criticise my players. It is a split-second decision and it ends up in punishment."

Billy Jones knows what he's done

Bela coolly sent Blackman the wrong way, leaving referee Andrew Madley to contemplate how much he loves to give a spot-kick - that's seven he's awarded in the last three Millers matches he's taken charge of.

Warne was on edge, a mix of emotions: pleased with the point he would have taken before kick-off but consumed with frustration that, in the circumstances, his men hadn't managed to hold out.

"I am a bit in between a rock and a hard place," he said. "I am proud of the way we played and I am proud that we are trying to take games to proper teams in the Championship, but I am disappointed we didn't take all three points."

It could have been worse. Blackman plucked the ball out of the air in the dying seconds when Bela was clean through and simply had to score, then Jones went a long way to atoning for his penalty misjudgement with a stunning, point-saving block on Maxime Colin.

With time to reflect, hopefully the manager will see this for the worthy result it is.

Don't look back in anger, Warney.

MAN FOR THE JOB

Poor old Angus MacDonald. The centre-half gave another strong performance at the heart of the defence yet was still only the second best MacDonald in the Millers team.

Midfield man Shaun is putting an injury-hit first year with Rotherham behind him and looks made for the sitting role he was handed in the visitors' 4-1-4-1 system.

He pushed and probed and passed and pressed, accepting the ball in any situation and always finding a teammate. He capped his best performance for the club with the killer pass into the box to Wiles that brought the breakthrough.

Shaun MacDonald makes his presence felt

Warne namechecked both midfielders in his press conference, along with wingers Miller and Ogbene.

At the end, the boss embraced his Birmingham counterpart, Aitor Karanka, and the pair spoke warmly for a long time.

Warne was tracky and trainers, Karanka sharp-suited and even sharper-booted. Karanka has the Real Madrid pedigree while Warne made his way to the Championship by way of Diss Town, Wigan Athletic and the Millers.

Yet his team suffered nothing in comparison to the Spaniard's.

He wondered whether he should have gambled more.

"After 70 minutes, do we take a point and ride the storm or do we roll the dice, put a striker on and have a right go?" he asked. "In the end, I went the coward's route thinking a point would do.

"I would have taken a point before the game, obviously. To go 1-0 up, you think 'Wow' and you're all patting yourself on the back and then 30 seconds later the dream is over.

"The lads are disappointed with the way they have thrown away a win. But there is strength in depth, there is opportunity to change the team, there are different ways we can play.

"We are going to have to use all the different techniques and systems to collect the points we need to have a great season."

Warne saved his last praise for his spot-kick specialist.

"For Sads to come on and score after he'd been dropped 24 hours earlier is testament to him as a kid. He was unlucky not to start.

"Sometimes who you are playing against dictates who plays. It wasn't that he hasn't been playing well. I just thought Mickel would cause Birmingham different problems. I think Sads will have a great season with us.

"I never had any doubt that he was going to score the penalty."

Sadlier looks Championship material. More importantly, so do the Millers.

Goals: Sadlier pen 86 (Rotherham); Bela pen 90 (Birmingham).

Birmingham (4-2-3-1): Neil Etheridge; Maxime Colin, Harlee Dean, George Friend, Kristian Pedersen; Ivan Sunjic (Gary Gardner 77), Adam Clayton; Ivan Sanchez, Scott Hogan (Jon Toral 66), Jeremie Bela; Lukas Jutkiewicz. Subs not used: Andres Prieto, Marc Roberts, Daniel Crowley, Agus Medina, Caolan Boyd-Munce.

Rotherham (4-1-4-1): Jamal Blackman; Wes Harding, Michael Ihiekwe, Angus MacDonald, Billy Jones; Shaun MacDonald; Chiedozie Ogbene, Ben Wiles, Matt Crooks, Mickel Miller (Kieran Sadlier 69); George Hirst (Michael Smith 61). Subs not used: Viktor Johansson, Richard Wood, Jamie Lindsay, Freddie Ladapo, Kyle Vassell.

Referee: Andrew Madley (Wakefield).




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