The referee, the referee and the referee ... the story of Rotherham United 1 Middlesbrough 2

The referee, the referee and the referee ... the story of Rotherham United 1 Middlesbrough 2

By Paul Davis | 22/04/2021

The referee, the referee and the referee ... the story of Rotherham United 1 Middlesbrough 2
Paul Warne questions the red-decision. Pictures by Kerrie Beddows

 

"THAT'S twice now."

The anger in coach Matt Hamshaw's shout cut through the air at AESSEAL New Stadium as Rotherham United faced Middlesbrough in a match they desperately needed to win in their fight for Championship survival.

His attack was focused on referee Darren Bond but his mind was drifting back seven weeks ago to Hillsborough.

That March 3 night against Sheffield Wednesday, Bond had wrongly shown Michael Smith a straight red card.

Now he was at it again, deciding Matt Crooks' head clash with Grant Hall had been premeditated and violent even though the midfielder's eyes had never left the ball.

The collision left Hall too dazed to continue but not as groggy as the thinking of the official whose ineptness cost the Millers any chance of the victory they craved.

"It is a massive thing," manager Paul Warne. "The changing room after the game was pretty devastated. The lads feel like they have been wronged.

"It is difficult for me standing there to be logical with them, to explain the outcome. They feel like they have been harshly treated and I back that sentiment. They are going to hurt for 12 hours, that is for sure. A win would have made the league table look really good.

Matt Crooks about to be sent off

"We were on the wrong end of a bad decision. The sending-off will resonate in my brain for many a week."

Afterwards, Rotherham launched an appeal against the decision in the hope of having the player's three-match ban overturned.

Crooks waited by the tunnel at half-time to protest his innocence to Bond before taking a seat in the West Stand with just a banana, an energy bar and his misery for company.

A lonely, mistreated figure, he was left contemplating the first dismissal of his 93-game Millers career.

His team were left contemplating an unfair step nearer the drop.

THE MATCH

Three minutes in and the four-point gap to Derby County and safety suddenly didn't seem that insurmountable.

Joe Mattock, playing for the first time since December ankle surgery, sent over a corner and Angus MacDonald headed home his first goal for the club against a Boro side led by Rotherham' 2016 Great Escapist, Neil Warnock.

Warnock was in a four-letter rage when Bond disallowed an equaliser, adjudging Duncan Watmore had nudged the ball out of goalkeeper Viktor Johansson's hands before rolling it into the net.

Then MacDonald cleared off the line from Chuba Akpom and the Millers dared to dream that a vital triumph against weakened visitors could be on the cards.

That feeling lasted until the 19th minute when Crooks flew through the air, so did the red card as he made unintentional contact with Hall and the course of the contest was irretrievably altered.

"It was two different games," Warne said. "It was the first 20 minutes when it was even and then it was the other 70-plus with ten men.

"We like to press and get the ball back high and counter-attack but when you're a man down you can't because you just get picked off. You have to be patient and get men behind the ball, which is just not our style at all."

The sending-off dominated the press conference when the manager finally emerged after spending a long time with his beaten, battered side.

"Crooksy's not a dirty player," he said. "I want him to attack that ball because that's the way we play. It's a contact sport. He's not maliciously gone to hurt the lad.

"Their bench has gone up in a furore and the ref has pulled out a red card. After the game, Crooksy looked heartbroken. It wasn't the face of a warrior who's gone round trying to 'hench' people."

Within 14 minutes, George Saville had lifted the ball high into the net for the leveller following good work down the left by Neeskens Kebano and Jonny Howson hit the bar as Rotherham's lack of numbers took quick effect.

Akpom applied the 54th-minute finish from Paddy McNair's set-up - and later Howson and Akpom also went close - to kill off the Millers who battled to the end and made attacking substitutions but managed only two Freddie Ladapo half-chances in response.

"It makes it even harder," said Warne, ruminating on the prospects of his side staying up.

"There were certain parts of our play I was not overly happy with, but fatigue makes cowards of us all. Fatigue makes you make bad decisions because you are that tired.

Joe Mattock back in action

"I am disappointed because at 1-0 we looked quite comfortable and I thought it could have been a good evening for us. Obviously, playing for 70 minutes with ten men is a completely different game. We fed off scraps and they built in confidence."

The boss composed himself at the final whistle before heading to the centre circle where Bond was waiting for the pitch to clear.

"I spoke to him at the end of the game and I was pretty calm because I was so heartbroken," Warne said. "I had done the whole circle of the emotional roller coaster and I just asked, would he look at it again?

"The thing is, you are wasting your breath. If you go in and see him, he will obviously politely say that from where he was stood he thought it was a blatant red. He is not going to turn around and say: ‘I think I made a mistake.'"

THE RAMIFICATIONS

If Rotherham go down, it will be on them, not Wednesday's referee.

There have been too many home defeats - 14 in 22 matches - too many set-piece concessions and the first seven games of the 12-match run-in have brought five losses and only four points.

But Bond won't have helped.

At the business end of the season, the consequence of mistakes - by players as well as officials - are magnified and carry far greater significance than in the first three-quarters of the campaign.

The ref took away Rotherham's chance of winning a game they had to win.

Smith's S6 red was rescinded and Warne said: "I hope this one does as well and that I might get a very loose apology, but that doesn't help me.

"We were fortunate against Sheffield Wednesday because we went on to win the game with ten men. Tonight could be catastrophic for our season.

"We could have gone on and lost 5-1 with 11 players, who knows, but I would be lying if I said I didn't think it had an impact on the result. That is what is hard for me to take."

Five matches to go, two games in hand over Derby.

Asked if Bond should have been at New York after the events at Hillsborough, Warne wisely kept his counsel.

"The powers that be decide which ref has which game," he said. "What more can I say without it costing me money?"

But it was in his eyes. The sense of injustice was coursing through him. You could tell what he was thinking.

As Hamshaw had spat in the heat of the battle, that's twice now.

Goals: MacDonald 3 (Rotherham); Saville 33, Akpom 54 (Middlesbrough).

Red card: Matt Crooks 19 (Rotherham).

Rotherham (3-5-2): Viktor Johansson; Wes Harding (Ryan Giles 76), Michael Ihiekwe, Angus MacDonald; Kieran Sadlier (Chiedozie Ogbene 71), Dan Barlaser (Jamie Lindsay H-T), Matt Crooks, Ben Wiles, Joe Mattock (Matt Olosunde H-T); Freddie Ladapo, Michael Smith (George Hirst 82). Subs not used: Jamal Blackman, Matt Olosunde, Richard Wood, Trevor Clarke, Florian Jozefzoon.

Middlesbrough (3-4-3): Jordan Archer; Paddy McNair, Grant Hall (Connor Malley 24), Marc Bola; Neeskens Kebano, Jonny Howson, George Saville, Marvin Johnson; Chuba Akpom, Duncan Watmore, Yannick Bolasie (Josh Coburn 87). Subs not used: Marcus Bettinelli, Hayden Hackney, Williams Kokolo, Jack Robinson.

Referee: Darren Bond (Lancashire).


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