The penalties not given, the penalty missed, shivering Warne and a huge chance passed up by ten-man Millers ... the story of Millwall 1 Rotherham United 0

The penalties not given, the penalty missed, shivering Warne and a huge chance passed up by ten-man Millers ... the story of Millwall 1 Rotherham United 0

By Paul Davis | 03/04/2021

The penalties not given, the penalty missed, shivering Warne and a huge chance passed up by ten-man Millers ... the story of Millwall 1 Rotherham United 0
Michael Smith steps up to take the penalty at Millwall. Pictures by Jim Brailsford

 

HE held his head in his hands knowing full well how costly his miss was.

It wasn't a terrible penalty by Michael Smith, it just had a terrible outcome for Rotherham United as they launched their 12-game, 37-day push for Championship survival.

The centre-forward hit the ball hard and low to his left only for the diving Bartosz Bialkowski to stretch out an arm longer than his surname and deprive the Millers of the point they deserved.

Rotherham had been denied two other spot-kicks that many referees would have given, they'd had skipper Richard Wood sent off, ten brave men had fought back to put themselves on the brink of sharing the spoils.

No wonder Smith also pulled his shirt over his face six minutes from time as the Millwall players rushed to congratulate their goalkeeper.

"It felt like a point was there, that's the frustrating thing," said manager Paul Warne as his side remained in third-bottom spot. "At this stage of the season you don't build on performances, you build on results. We need results.

"The lads feel sorry for themselves and are licking their wounds a little bit in there. I've asked them to have a shower, get on the bus and just let it go. We've just got to let it go.

Richard Wood is about to be sent off

"There's another game in three days, a big game, as they all are. We've now got 11 matches to sort our season out."

Smith, who has done as much as any player this season to keep Rotherham hopes alive, is a level-headed character who doesn't get too up or down, but his misery was etched in his features and weighing down his slumped shoulders at the final whistle.

It was the second time in three matches he had stepped up to the spot and failed to beat the keeper.

A big chance missed by him in the first game after the international break, an even bigger opportunity gone for the Millers.

THE MATCH

"It was an absolute, nailed-on red card. There are no complaints from me."

Wood had made sure Jed Wallace's clear run on goal had ended just outside the penalty area and his boss was agreeing with referee John Brook's dismissal.

It came ten minutes into the second half and tipped the contest in Millwall's favour. The old-man captain tried the old-man trick of going down himself and pretending to be hurt but the official wasn't buying it.

"The sending-off is obviously an absolute hammer-blow," Warne said. "We were a little bit outnumbered on set-pieces after that. Woody has taken one for the team."

The tenth-placed Lions suddenly had more room and their winner came only nine minutes later as Wallace marked his 200th appearance by despatching a stunning volley from a corner into the one tiny bit of space Viktor Johansson couldn't cover in the top left of his goal.

Earlier, Freddie Ladapo had twice tumbled in the box, once in each half, with the first incident in particular sparking furious appeals from the striker, teammates and the bench.

Warne found himself less in agreement with the official this time as he said: "We had a very legitimate claim for a penalty when Freddie's had his shirt pulled. He's adamant it's a penalty. He's not on pens so there's no way he's not going to pull the trigger if he gets the opportunity."

Rotherham's best player on the day, Angus MacDonald, concurred: "The ref's missed a few decisions. I think it's a stonewall penalty and I think most people will feel the same."

The depleted Millers, desperate to reduce the gap between themselves and Birmingham City, refused to buckle and were rewarded when Murray Wallace caught Smith's leg in the 84th minute and Brooks said 'yes' at the third time of asking.

The long walk

Smith departed, head down, after being unable to seal a crucial comeback. Johansson gave him a Viking hug, his big pal, Matt Crooks, fussed around him, staying by his side all the way across the turf.

As Wood before him had discovered, it was a long, lonely walk to the away dressing room in the furthest corner of the stadium.

Warne said: "The game had a little bit of everything except points for us, which is the most crucial part. For the first 15 or 20 minutes they were the better team.

"We didn't get to grips with them in the middle of the park as well as I would have liked. After that, we were the best side in a scrappy game. We had chances."

In the opening period, Ladapo went close with a deftly-executed shot on the turn and Michael Ihiekwe thought he'd given the visitors the lead only for the flying Bialkowski to paw away his header.

"Second half, they started really well again," Warne said. "It was a wonder-goal by Wallace. I always felt like that was their only way in. It was an unbelievable finish and we've just been done by a bit of quality.

"It would have been a very good point today. It's disappointing."

After the break, Johansson had to be at his best to stop Danny McNamara's shot doubling Millwall's advantage and MacDonald hooked a late chance to equalise just wide.

By then, Jamie Lindsay was running round, pressing, competing, doing what he does best after seven weeks on the treatment table. Chieo Ogbene was in the squad for the first time since September and Clark Robertson is about ready to return but wasn't risked.

"Jamie was a real positive," Warne said. "Ben Wiles was back from injury as well. I thought he was pretty outstanding when he came on. All in all, not too bad, but we're at the point of the season where results matter and not much else."

Millwall knew they'd been tested. Their manager, Gary Rowett, wandered down the touchline after completing his media duties. A decent man, he exchanged pleasantries with the small Rotherham press pack who'd just interviewed Warne and were digging out train tickets for the long journey home.

He had one message: "If it's any consolation, I think you lot will stay up."

THAT PENALTY

And Smith must score.

The famous old line of commentary rang as true at the New Den as it did when it was first uttered in the 1983 FA Cup Final between Brighton and Manchester United.

The fact that closest rivals Birmingham would win their game with a stoppage-time spot-kick later that evening meant there was nothing Good for the Easter Millers about this particular Friday.

Dan Barlaser

Warne was shivering against the cold in this bleak part of South-east London or maybe it was just an involuntary shudder as he contemplated the potential significance of the loss of a point as the run-in unfolds.

"No-one misses penalties on purpose," he said. "You've got to have some 'cojones' to take it. In fairness to Smudge, he stood up and took it. If it goes in, he's the hero. I've got no issue with him. He gives everything he can."

Dan Barlaser was among those to console Smith at the end. The midfielder had been substituted and would have taken the penalty had he not been taken off.

As Smith shaped to shoot, there was a slogan on a large advertising board in the Dockers Stand to his right for a company called Masons Scaffolding which summed up the pressing need for him to convert.

A few minutes later, he had to walk by it on his way off the pitch and now that same slogan mocked his profligacy and cast grim, unwanted doubt on the Millers and their bid to stay up.

'Making safety our priority.'

Goals: Wallace 64 (Millwall).

Millwall (3-5-2): Bartosz Bialkowski; Shaun Hutchinson (Alex Pearce 31), Jake Cooper, Murray Wallace; Danny McNamara, George Evans, Ryan Woods (Maikel Kieftenbeld 88), Billy Mitchell (Connor Mahoney 74), Scott Malone; Jake Cooper (Jon Dadi Bodvarsson 74), Mason Bennett (Kenneth Zohore 74). Subs not used: Frank Fielding, Shaun Williams, Tom Bradshaw, Mahlon Romeo.

Rotherham (3-5-2): Viktor Johansson; Michael Ihiekwe, Richard Wood, Angus MacDonald; Wes Harding, Lewis Wing (George Hirst 79), Dan Barlaser (Florian Jozefzoon 79), Matt Crooks (Trevor Clarke 79), Ryan Giles (Ben Wiles 59); Freddie Ladapo (Jamie Lindsay 59), Michael Smith. Subs not used: Jamal Blackman, Shaun MacDonald, Chiedozie Ogbene, Kieran Sadlier.

Referee: John Brooks (Leicestershire).




Spotted something we should know about?

Call our Newsdesk on 01709 803562
Or email newsdesk@rotherhamadvertiser.co.uk
Message us on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/TheRotherhamAdvertiser/