The new shape, the 90-minute display, the Duracel man and did Freddie really mean it? The story of Rotherham United 2 AFC Bournemouth 2

The new shape, the 90-minute display, the Duracel man and did Freddie really mean it? The story of Rotherham United 2 AFC Bournemouth 2

By Paul Davis | 29/11/2020

The new shape, the 90-minute display, the Duracel man and did Freddie really mean it? The story of Rotherham United 2 AFC Bournemouth 2
Goal celebrations for the Millers against Bournemouth. Pictures by Kerrie Beddows

 

IT required vision, bravery, perfect execution and total faith.

No, no, not Freddie Ladapo's immaculate chip that brought his and Rotherham United's second goal. We'll come to that later.

This was the Millers playing 3-5-2 for the first time this season - and choosing to trial it against one of the top sides in the division.

They went toe to toe with AFC Bournemouth in a pulsating Championship contest at misty, murky AESSEAL New York Stadium. A draw was fair, a win hadn't been out of reach.

"Ugly," said Cherries boss Jason Tindall after being kept at bay by a formation that had wing-backs bombing forward and also, crucially, bombing back. 

Beautiful if you were a Miller stirred by your team rising to the challenge after two frustrating away defeats to deliver their most complete performance of the season.

"Overall, we were really good," said manager Paul Warne. "We had only two days to work on a new system. Richie (assistant manager Barker) did a lot of work with the players. 

"The way Bournemouth play with five channels, we thought having a back five out of possession would stop (David) Brooks because he is their outstanding player. He's so quick it's like it's virtually cheating! 

"Fair play to the lads, they took on the information. They were desperate to put in a performance fitting of the club and they definitely did that."

Billionaire-backed Bournemouth had flown to South Yorkshire second in the table having suffered only one league defeat all season.

Nineteenth-placed Rotherham had eight starters from their League One promotion push and both substitutes they used were from that same squad. The visitors were in the top flight last term and had held on to most of their stars.

Saturday's match began, essentially, as a contest between a League One side and a Premier League team but didn't pan out that way. Goalkeeper Asmir Begovic was the Cherries' man of the match.

"The fact we are making arguably the best team in the league's goalkeeper make saves is credit to my team," Warne said. "I hope my players think about themselves in a good way; the way I think about them. 

"I get frustrated when we don't play well because I know how good they are and how good they can be. All I want them to do is aspire to be the best versions of themselves they can possibly be. Today was as close as they have come to that."

Meanwhile, one player was running. And running. And running.

THE MATCH

One of Jamie Lindsay's main roles is to stop the opposition playing.

While doing that the narky midfielder, the hard, little sod who loves nothing more than picking a fight, reminded everybody he can play a bit too.

His performance more than any other made Bournemouth wilt in the face of a wall of red-and-white resolve.

"He is a super-human athlete," grinned fitness fanatic Warne. "Not to my level yet but he has a lot of years left in him if he works hard and wants to improve! His work rate drives the team.

"Wilesy and Crooksy put similar shifts in at the side of him. I thought the middle three were excellent. They had a lot of work to do and I will look forward to looking at their GPS stats."

Two-goal Freddie Ladapo

Lindsay had two chances to score - a thumping first-half header from Joe Mattock's cross and a rasping second-half drive, both of which brought flying saves from Begovic - but in the end left the glory to Ladapo.

After a bright start, the Millers found themselves behind in the 20th minute. Keeper Jamal Blackman needlessly hounded Dominic Solanke, who had his back to goal and was going nowhere, trod on the striker's foot and was beaten with ease from the spot by Junior Stanislas

Ladapo levelled 17 minutes later, doing what Freddie does at his sharpest: reading the situation faster than anyone else and applying a clinical close-range finish to another peach of a Mattock delivery.

A tackle close to half-time from Matt Olosunde on clean-through Stanislas was as good as a goal, then came a moment of wonder five minutes after the break when Ladapo suddenly changed direction, ran around the outside of the Cherries defence and sent an exquisite effort from the tightest of angles spinning over Begovic into the far corner of the net.

This wasn't Rotherham getting lucky. This was Rotherham taking the game to the promotion favourites, playing with no little skill and precision, exerting their will, fronting up in every personal battle, forcing Bournemouth into the type of full-blooded contest they thought they were too good for.

The jury remains out on whether Ladapo meant it or had just been hoisting the ball towards the back post for a teammate to attack. Judge Freddie insisted "110 per cent"  it was intentional and a smiling Warne was happy to cast his vote in favour of his centre-forward.

"I like to see the good in everyone," he said. "I will say genius. There is too much darkness in the world. Let's have a bit of light. You have to take a bit of sunshine when you can. 

"If it is Bergkamp, it would be a touch of genius. It's Freddie. Why not genius again? Let him enjoy his life."

Matt Crooks

Solanke headed home sub Diego Rico's cross for a 63rd-minute equaliser and there was no let-up as both teams strived for a winner.

Angus MacDonald's stunning bicycle kick was met with a Begovic stop that was equally spectacular before Blackman redeemed himself with a strong, vital hand to deny Solanke one on one.

Through all this, one player just kept running. And running. And running.

With his copper-coloured top and his black sporting heart, Lindsay was the Duracel man.

He turned up everywhere, contested everything, covered all areas of the pitch, fuelled by batteries that never ran down.

More than anyone, he set the tone on a memorable afternoon when the Millers went for 90-plus minutes on full charge.

THE PERFORMANCE

At the final whistle, there were no histrionics, no appeal to the referee, no benches up in arms, just handshakes and acknowledging looks in the eye. Rotherham had earned their point and also Bournemouth's respect.

The Cherries' squad cost £100-million-plus while the Millers spent around £400,000 on transfer fees in the summer. A display like this proved the power of organisation, spirit and belief among exalted company and inspired confidence for the campaign ahead.

"We scored two goals against a really good team," Warne said. "We could have scored more if their goalkeeper didn't have the best day of his life. 

"I can't ask any more than that. Even if we had lost, there would be no complaints from me from a performance point of view. 

"I asked the lads to make their families proud of them. It is not just about the result, it is about the level of performance, the level of effort, the level of character and I thought all of those were up there. 

"There were some outstanding performances. I was afraid for the team with a few minutes to go, thinking if Bournemouth nicked it now it would be a sickening feeling. Our performance deserved at least a draw. 

"The lads have set a standard and our job now is to keep that standard for the next 30 games."

Ladapo, laughing, beaming,  headed into the evening repeating his insistence about that second goal: "I was looking for an opening. I found an opening. I'm claiming it."

What a day to be a Miller. No darkness. Only light.

Goals: Ladapo 37, 50 (Rotherham); Stanislas pen 20, Solanke 63 (Bournemouth).

Rotherham (3-5-2): Jamal Blackman; Wes Harding, Michael Ihiekwe, Angus MacDonald; Matt Olosunde (Trevor Clarke 64), Jamie Lindsay, Matt Crooks, Ben Wiles, Joe Mattock; Freddie Ladapo (Kyle Vassell 89), Michael Smith. Subs not used: Viktor Johansson, Billy Jones, Adam Thompson, Florian Jozefzoon, Dan Barlaser, Mickel Miller, George Hirst. 

Bournemouth (4-3-3): Asmir Begovic; Adam Smith ((Diego Rico 61), Chris Mepham, Steve Cook, Lloyd Kelly; Jefferson Lerma, Philip Billing, Dan Gosling (Sam Surridge 61); David Brooks, Dominic Solanke, Junior Stanislas. Subs not used: Mark Travers, Rodrigo Riquelme, Nnamdi Ofoborh, Jack Simpson, Gavin Kilkenny, Jaidon Anthony, Jordan Zemura.

Referee: Geoff Eltringham (County Durham).




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