The pigeon, the points, the play-offs and that referee ... the story of Rotherham United 1 Accrington Stanley 0

By Paul Davis | 17/11/2019

The pigeon, the points, the play-offs and that referee ... the story of Rotherham United 1 Accrington Stanley 0
Carlton Morris scores. Pictures by Steve Mettam

TWO short-legged, round-chested figures were strutting round the pitch at AESSEAL New York Stadium.

One was a pigeon.

The other was a referee with a bird-brained idea of how to run a football match.

Fortunately, the performance of Darren Handley didn't prevent Rotherham United beating Accrington Stanley to climb into the League One play-off places for the first time this season.

But the Bolton official drew wrath from the crowd and bemusement from Millers manager Paul Warne with an inept display that culminated in the 82nd-minute sending-off of Chiedozie Ogbene that was dubious at best and downright wrong at worst.

Ogbene walked for two yellow cards, and there were six others on a sliding scale of correct to crazy.

The winger's second came for simulation after he had clearly won the ball and then either been tripped or jumped over his opponent's challenge.

Home fans showed what they thought of the decision by applauding their player off the pitch. Not once did the Accrington player involved suggest Ogbene had cheated as the Rotherham man took a tumble.

Celebration time

"The ref is there so I presume he is right," said Warne, picking his words carefully in his after-match press conference. "I haven't seen it back.

"Chieo might have been a bit unlucky, but the rules are the rules. If he's dived - and the referee has told me he has - then he deserves his second yellow.

"I thought at the time that Chieo had won the ball back and that we had the free-kick. For them to then have the free-kick and my player be sent off is disappointing."

The Millers rode roughshod over Accrington in the first half and rode their luck in the second when spirited visitors pushed hard for an equaliser.

By the end, Carlton Morris' superb 31st-minute header still separated the two teams, the Millers had their seventh victory in ten matches, they'd gone from tenth spot  to sixth and the home results that have held them in midtable looked all the better for a third 'W' being added to the tally.

Meanwhile, the pigeon which had made the playing surface its home for virtually all of the 90+4 minutes was showing no signs of departing, contendedly waddling around the pristine turf.

In far less of a flap than Handley had spent the game.

THE MATCH

With several rival sides not playing, with the opportunity to shoot up the table, with New York form a concern, winning was all that mattered on Saturday.

Like play-off sides do, Rotherham did what they had to. A young Millers team are still developing and are moving in the right direction.

Morris could have put them ahead after just 34 seconds but fatally delayed his shot, allowing Dimitar Evtimov to make a top-drawer save.

The attacker reacted much better half an hour later, rising high to power home a match-deciding header from Ben Wiles' free-kick on the right.

"In the first half we were superior, although I wasn't pleased with how easily we gave away corners," Warne said. "If you give away enough set-pieces, at some point you're going to concede.

"I knew that Accrington would come at us in the second. That's why we needed a second goal, which was elusive. It would have been better for my heart rate if we had got the second.

"It did feel tense in the stadium because everyone was so desperate for that win. I was just waiting for our net to ripple. There were a couple of bounces in our six-yard box."

Morris signed off the opening period by curling a shot inches wide after more good work by Wiles who combined mileage and magic throughout the contest to earn the Man-of-the-Match award.

After the break, Clark Robertson and Michael Smith weren't far away with headers while Wiles tested Evtimov with a piledriver. Stanley countered at the other end with a Sean McConville blocked header and two off-target shots from Sam Finley.

"Accrington threw the kitchen sink at us," Warne said, "They defended really well and made things difficult for us.

"They got a 0-0 at Coventry City and a 1-1 at Wycombe Wanderers, the teams with the best home records. We knew it would be tough.

"If you'd have offered me 1-0 before the game there's a good chance I would have taken it."

As the two sides traded blows, the pigeon was here, there and everywhere, a presence in both halves, rarely on the ball but always on the move, racking up better GPS stats than even Wiles.

Handley had, rightly, shown only a yellow card to Evtimov in the first half when the keeper had unceremoniously ended Matt Crooks' run. The midfielder was heading for goal but defenders were covering.

Star man Ben Wiles

As time ebbed away, the colour was red for Ogbene whose look of disbelief matched that of most people in the stadium. Nicking the ball away from Joe Maguire and then taking a spill was his final act.

Soon after, Maguire was a whisker away, McConville was wide and, after Rotherham had survived a couple of penalty-area pinball scares to see out the game, there were cheers of relief as loud as the boos for the ref.

"It was nice to win," Warne said. "It puts us into sixth position, which is good. I still think there is a lot more to come from the squad. We have injured players coming back.

"Carlton took his goal really well. His early chance, he controlled it and probably made it a nice height for the keeper. I think if we'd have been cruising in the game and 2-0 or 3-0 up he might have taken it first time and caused more problems.

"I thought he worked really well for the team today and was a threat. Him and especially Chieo were our threats in the first half.

"We dug in after the red card. I thought the fans were good when we went down to ten men. They helped the lads out.

"Parts of our play I was really pleased with. It's all about winning, innit? These three points at the end of the season will be worth the same as a 5-0 win.

"People always tell me it's a sign of a good team when you can win when you’re not playing at your best."

HAPLESS HANDLEY

Ogbene had been ordered to run at Accrington and, boy, did he listen to instructions. The visitors couldn't handle his right-flank darts and he turned defence into attack with some frighteningly-rapid surges.

His boss, now speaking with more abandon, was at a loss to explain why hitting the deck should have been the end of his afternoon.

"Sometimes the opposition don't stay on their feet and they win free-kicks," Warne said.

"If the ref is going to penalise Chieo for going to ground then he has to do it for every other instance where people have dived.

"The ref didn't always give free-kicks. There were loads of times where he played on and said: 'That's not a foul. Get up.' If you set that precedent you've got to follow it through.

"I thought there a lot of fouls in the game. In fairness, the referee in the first half tried to speed up the game for us.

"There were a few Accrington offsides not given that I thought should have been. But then I would think that because I'm right on edge, aren't I?"

Three sides of the ground were on edge with him during 12 minutes of ten-man resistance.

Ogbene came back on to the pitch to join the celebrations after the final whistle. The pigeon was still there, wandering cheerily among the throng in front of the North Stand.

It seemed as happy as anyone that Rotherham had just risen four places in the pecking order.

Rotherham (4-4-1-1): Daniel Iversen; Matt Olosunde, Michael Ihiekwe, Clark Robertson, Billy Jones; Chiedozie Ogbene, Dan Barlaser, Ben Wiles, Carlton Morris (Adam Thompson 88); Matt Crooks (Jamie Lindsay 76); Michael Smith (Freddie Ladapo 76). Subs not used: Lewis Price, Trevor Clarke, Jake Hastie, Kyle Vassell.

Accrington (4-4-1-1): Dimitar Evtimov; Callum Johnson, Ross Sykes, Harvey Rodgers, Joe Maguire (Wilson Carvalho 88); Jordan Clark, Seamus Conneely, Ben Barclay (Colby Bishop 76), Joe Pritchard (Sean McConville H-T); Sam Finley; Dion Charles. Subs not used: Toby Savin, Phil Edwards, Offrande Zanzala, Sadou Diallo.

Goals: Morris 31 (Rotherham).

Referee: Darren Handley (Lancashire).

Attendance: 8,430 (253).


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