The roar, the respect, the away win on Championship opening day and the wasp ... the story of Wycombe Wanderers 0 Rotherham United 1

The roar, the respect, the away win on Championship opening day and the wasp ... the story of Wycombe Wanderers 0 Rotherham United 1

By Paul Davis | 13/09/2020

The roar, the respect, the away win on Championship opening day and the wasp ... the story of Wycombe Wanderers 0 Rotherham United 1
Michael Ihiekwe heads the 92nd-minute winner. Pictures by Jim Brailsford

SUDDENLY, it didn't feel like an empty ground.

THERE were roars of delight, shrieks of relief and bellows of defiance that shook a stadium 160 miles from home.

What Rotherham United's bench were lacking in numbers they were making up for in volume.

Michael Ihiekwe had just risen at a corner to head home a stoppage-time, Championship-opening-day winner for Rotherham United at Wycombe Wanderers.

The last time Paul Warne's men were at this level, two year ago, it took them eight months to register their one and only away triumph. The time before that, four seasons previously, they never won on their travels at all.

Now, at warm, sunny, picturesque Adams Park, they were doing it on the very first afternoon.

The dugout erupted in an explosion of shouting substitutes, Warne's whooping, Matt Hamshaw's hollering and Richie Barker's billowing shorts.

It had been tough, so tough. Two teams who were in League One last term had gone toe to toe on Saturday in a clash short on quality but long on endeavour. Wanderers had been the better side before bit by bit, after the break, Rotherham wrested the initiative.

"As you can see by my face, I'm absolutely exhausted," said Warne as he conducted socially-distanced media duties from behind a barrier on the touchline. "No doubt their gaffer has gone through the mill as well.

"My team pulled it round in the second half and were a lot better. I just don't think we competed hard or fast enough in the first half.

"Both teams defend well on set-pieces, both teams attack well on set-pieces. It's no surprise the defining moment was a set-piece. It gives me great pride that we stuck in there."

Football isn't football without the pageantry of fans but the rewards remain the same and in a campaign where every point will matter the table shows shows Rotherham already have three priceless ones on the board.

At the final whistle, Ihiekwe beamed and shared his teammates' embraces. Freddie Ladapo and Joe Mattock did a joyful little jig together.

The Millers are up and running, the Millers have momentum.

The goal had changed everything.

THE MATCH

FOR once, Rotherham found themselves being outhustled.

Warne has built his empire on attitude and work rate but Wycombe were playing their first-ever game in the second tier and their desire and commitment showed.

"I think they are going to cause teams no end of problems," the Millers boss said. "They don't give you any time on the ball at all.

Although physically they're smaller than our players they just had more aggression in the first half. At times, it looked like they had more heart, which is not something I like to say about my team.

"Their 'press' was really good, they fought for every ball. They play the ball to their striker but it's more about them trying to get the second ball. That's what they all gamble for. It was about our lads having the diligence to come back and try to win the 'seconds'. It was a really difficult game."

Rotherham should have been behind after only 77 seconds. They had an attacking free-kick but Wycombe broke quickly and Scott Kashket's right-wing cross left Daryl Horgan with an open goal.

Horgan was rushing in at full stretch and there were only two possible outcomes: either he failed to connect or he scored. Happily for the Millers, he came up with an impossible third and skied the ball over the bar.

Kieran Sadlier, one of three Warne league debutants, tested Ryan Allsop with a low free-kick and Ihiekwe should have scored with a header that he nodded wide but in between those chances Darius Charles hit the bar for the home side.

After the interval, another debut-maker, Wes Harding, was in the right place to clear when Kashket lobbed debutant number three Jamal Blackman while Blackman later saved from David Wheeler.

Substitute Michael Smith came on, fell foul of a referee but also helped swing the contest along with fellow replacements Ben Wiles and Kyle Vassell. Chiedozie Ogbene had come alive too and now Rotherham were doing more with the ball up front.

"That's what the subs, the game-changers, are there for," Warne said. "Vass at the end, apart from shooting twice from 60 yards, had a positive effect. Obviously Smudge did. Wilesy gave us a bit more tenacity."

The boss's half-time words had also had an effect.

"I went a bit hissy at half-time," he revealed. "I said: 'Look, there is no point us banging the drum that we're going to be one of the fittest sides when we're not competing enough.' Wycombe just ran all over us and caused us all sorts of problems that initially we couldn't deal with."

Rotherham were in red and white, and how great it was to see the home colours shine in sunny Buckinghamshire. Tony Stewart sported blue and cream, the Millers chairman, free of his coronavirus quarantine, cutting a natty figure as one of around 30 spectators spaced around the main stand.

Stewart leapt like the visiting bench when the goal went in. Joe Mattock had scored free-kicks for fun in pre-season and his corner delivery to captain Ihiekwe was straight from the Dan Barlaser book of set-piece taking.

There was no real power to the skipper's header, just a spring-heeled leap and perfect direction that left Allsop wrong-footed and the home side feeling wronged; a thing of slow-motion beauty.

Ah, the satisfying irony. Until that point, Wycombe defenders had got a head, a foot, a block, a body part, on virtually everything. With time almost up, Ihiekwe left Charles for dead in front of the Lords Stand bearing the motto 'We've got you covered'.

The game ended two minutes later and the scorer celebrated, in turn, with assistant manager Barker, keeper coach Andy Warrington, even the kitman.

There were moments with Viktor Johansson, Matt Crooks, almost every player.

Except Smith. He was busy having it out with the referee.

THE MANAGERS

Warne and rival boss Gareth Ainsworth are cut from different cloth but are very similar figures.

Warne has transformed Rotherham's playing operation since taking the hot-seat while Ainsworth is a Wycombe rock star for what he's done with Wanderers, appropriate given his guitar-playing and membership of a band.

Ainsworth was all flowing locks, Chelsea boots and unbuttoned shirt, Warne all shaven head, trainers and club-issue training gear.

"Press, press," came the strangled cajoling from the dugout. It was Ainsworth but could easily have been Warne.

The respect between the pair - the two longest-serving managers in charge of Championship clubs - was evident.

They hugged before kick-off and also afterwards as they came face to face on the touchline while they were swapping places for media interviews.

Paul Warne at Wycombe

"Top man," the Wycombe chief told his adversary simply.

Ainsworth will envy Warne's win. Warne will envy Ainsworth's hair.

The Rotherham boss discussed the sweetness of winning late.

"What the win has done is reinforce the message of the importance of set-pieces," he said. "The lads had a session on them last Tuesday, which didn't go down well, as you can imagine! But it's worth it if you win games.

"We have to improve. We're going to improve It's our first real competitive game, although I know you can say we played Salford City (League Cup) last week. This really had something riding on it.

"A win is a win. We have to enjoy it. I'm really pleased for the captain because I thought he did really well. He missed a sitter in the first half so he definitely owed me it!

The sun had brought out the insects and Warne was a picture of calm when a wasp landed on his balding bonce and he just carried on talking.

"What?" he exclaimed loudly, the coolness crumbling when it was pointed out to him what had just happened. "A wasp? Frickin' hell, I thought I just had an itchy head."

So, there you have it: a match report with a sting in its tail.

Just like Icky and those beautiful, last-gasp Millers.

Goals: Ihiekwe 90+2 (Rotherham).

Wycombe (4-4-1-1): Ryan Allsop; Jack Grimmer, Anthony Stewart,  Darius Charles, Joe Jacobson; David Wheeler, Matt Bloomfield (Nick Freeman 72), Alex Pattison (Jason McCarthy 82), Fred Onyedinma; Daryl Horgan; Scott Kashket (Josh Parker 87). Subs not used: David Stockdale, Ryan Tafazolli, Giles Phillips, Alex Samuel.

Rotherham (4-5-1): Jamal Blackman; Wes Harding, Michael Ihieke, Clark Robertson, Joe Mattock; Chiedozie Ogbene, Shaun MacDonald, Matt Crooks (Michael Smith 52), Jamie Lindsay, Kieran Sadlier (Ben Wiles 66); Freddie Ladapo (Kyle Vassell 83). Subs not used: Viktor Johansson, Billy Jones, Angus MacDonald, Mickel Miller.

Referee: James Linington (Isle of Wight).




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