The poppy, the volley, the character, the captain and the keeper ... the story of Rotherham United 2 Preston North End 1

The poppy, the volley, the character, the captain and the keeper ... the story of Rotherham United 2 Preston North End 1

By Paul Davis | 08/11/2020

The poppy, the volley, the character, the captain and the keeper ... the story of Rotherham United 2 Preston North End 1
Richard Wood puts Rotherham in front. Pictures by Kerrie Beddows

 

ONE poppy, two goals, three points.

They all mattered.

Rotherham United won the Remembrance Day fixture, ending the unbeaten away record of opponents who had won four times and drawn once on their Championship travels.

A solitary poppy on the big screen, glowing through the mist that enveloped AESSEAL New York Stadium, was a poignant reminder that some things are more important than sport.

But, in a footballing context, this was a big afternoon.

After two losses, the 19th-placed Millers needed a response against Preston North End. They could go into the international break looking up or they could slink into it with heads down.

Manager Paul Warne made six changes. The new combination up front of Freddie Ladapo and Kyle Vassell worked. There were strong performances from players making rare starts and equally good ones from those with tired legs who raised their game.

"We do have different ways to play," the boss said. "We've had some games with more possession and more passes but without the end product. Today it was a bit of an uglier match but we did create more chances.

Paul Warne  ... He was happy really!

"Some weeks we will have to play that way, others we will play another way. We set up today how we thought we could hurt them and I think our performance deserved some points."

Before kick-off, The Last Post hung in the air. Poignant but not quite the same as in Novembers past. There were no uniforms, no fans, and it was a recording at an empty ground rather than a bugler playing for a full house.

Football is put into context by occasions like this, yet it never loses its power to lift spirits, fire dreams, fill hearts.

This was a Rotherham win. And it mattered.

THE MATCH

If you head down to New York this afternoon you'll hear the thud still reverberating around the stadium.

It's the noise made when Richard Wood hit a tackle with Brad Potts so hard that for a second the floodlights seemed to dim.

The Millers were 1-0 ahead at the time through the skipper's 53rd-minute goal and this was a challenge from their leader that said they weren't giving up this game.

The contest was fought out at a furious pace, with both teams getting the ball forward in double-quick time.

Dan Barlaser pinged passes, Jamie Lindsay was constantly on to ball or man, Wes Harding was the same rock on the left as he normally is on the right and Ladapo and Vassell were making the most of their opportunity together.

Rotherham led, were pegged back in the closing stage and then led again. Preston's Scott Sinclair, the top away scorer in the division, was a spectator.

"I was really pleased with the performance," Warne said. "I asked the lads to leave everything out there. They had two hours to set us up for a nicer international break.

"I thought we were the better team, I thought we created more chances. Preston were cranking the pressure up, but what pleases me the most is that we were winning and then drawing but the lads weren't clinging on to a point. They wanted all three.

"They were courageous enough to go up the other end and try to create and on another day we might have got a few more. It could have finished 5-3."

In the first half, debutant Millers goalkeeper Viktor Johansson denied Daniel Johnson, Ladapo dragged a low shot wide and Vassell stung Declan Rudd's hands with a free-kick piledriver. Just after the break, Ladapo was presented with an open net by Ben Wiles' trickery down the left only to steer the cross wide.

Freddie Ladapo can't believe he hasn't scored

Then it happened ...

"I have joked since he scored that I didn't know he had a right foot," Warne said. "I thought he had a left foot and a stump, so the fact it has gone in off his stump is pretty impressive. Miracles do happen."

The manager was talking about Wood's opener - the first goal scored at the kop end this season - and it would have been one of the quotes of the campaign if it wasn't for one little problem: it was about as true as a Donald Trump election claim.

Wood had actually cushioned Michael Ihiekwe's head-back from Barlaser's free-kick on his chest and then despatched the sweetest of left-footed volleys past Rudd.

I repeat, Wood - the Wrecking Ball, the Warrior, the man who resides in the postcode of Head It And Kick It - despatched the sweetest of left-footed volleys.

Journalists requested his presence after the match and the veteran centre-half bowled into the press conference, grinning from ear to ear, brandishing his phone showing video footage that refuted his boss's claims.

Johansson thwarted Tom Barkhuizen in a one-on-one but was beaten in the 80th minute by Ryan Ledson who was lurking at the edge of the penalty area and fired Wood's clearing header hard and low into the bottom corner.

Five minutes later, the Millers struck again, Florian Jozefzoon speeding 70 yards through Preston players and giving the ball to Matt Crooks to apply a sweeping finish.

Matt Crooks wins it for Rotherham

"Proud," said Warne. "P*ssed off," said Preston boss Alex Neil who thought his side had gifted Rotherham the winner by playing a sideways pass and allowing Jozefzoon to intercept and race off on his merry way.

Deep in time added on, hearts were in mouths as Jayden Stockley's header bounced off the woodwork. So late in the match, The Last Post indeed.

Barkhuizen dragged a shot wide and the game was up. Only a decent save from Rudd prevented clean-through Jozefzoon making it 3-1.

"It is really pleasing," Warne said. "I wanted to get Hirsty (striker George Hirst) on the pitch because I thought it really suited him with how expansive the game was, but I thought Freddie was amazing.

"I had to keep a substitute back because the lads were dropping. Woody was tired after about 50 minutes. He even told me, which he never usually does. It was a quick game played at a right pace. Matty Olosunde was cramping up and there were all sorts of issues.

"It was like holding a sieve of water. You hold this side and that side floods and you hold that side and this side leaks."

The boss was a distinctly happy man but hardly dancing with delight at the prospect of spending his lockdown Saturday night viewing Strictly with Mrs W.

His celebration would wait: "Tomorrow is a big day because it's the NFL on Sky. I will sit in my shed and drink Moretti, eat crisps and watch that."

VIKTOR THE VIKING

It took one crucial moment to make a good debut an excellent one.

Barkhuizen was through on goal with the score at 1-1. Out came Swede Johansson in a blur of bearded bravery and skinhead swiftness. Instant decision, ball taken, thumping collision, danger gone.

"He would have been my man of the match but was just eclipsed by Freddie," Warne said.

"I like my goalkeepers to play on the edge. There are times when keepers have to come for things and take the pressure off the back four. The one he tidied when they went through was worth a goal to us."

Viktor helped to put the 'k' in viktory, but it was the impact of another Miller that couldn't be denied. Wood set a captain's example throughout.

As well as the poppy on the screen, there was also one on his jersey. Both teams were wearing special shirts to mark a special day.

Wood is 35. Excerpts of the beautiful Laurence Binyon poem, The Fallen, were read out before kick-off.

Age shall not weary them.

Goals: Wood 53, Crooks 85 (Rotherham); Ledson 80 (Preston).

Rotherham (4-4-1-1): Viktor Johansson; Matt Olosunde (Angus MacDonald 89), Michael Ihiekwe, Richard Wood, Wes Harding; Kieran Sadlier (Florian Jozefzoon 23), Jamie Lindsay, Dan Barlaser, Ben Wiles; Kyle Vassell (Matt Crooks 67); Freddie Ladapo. Sub not used: Josh Vickers, Mickel Miller, George Hirst, Michael Smith.

Preston (4-1-4-1): Declan Rudd; Darnell Fisher (Paul Gallagher 75), Paul Huntington, Jordan Storey, Joe Rafferty; Ryan Ledson; Scott Sinclair (Tom Barkhuizen 59), Alan Browne, Daniel Johnson, Brad Potts; Emil Riis Jakobsen (Jayden Stockley 59). Subs not used: Connor Ripley, Josh Earl, Josh Harrop, Sean Maguire.

Referee: Andy Davies (Hampshire).




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