The skipper and his 'goal', Smudge and the 100 club and Millers survival could really be on ... the story of Bristol City 0 Rotherham United 2

The skipper and his 'goal', Smudge and the 100 club and Millers survival could really be on ... the story of Bristol City 0 Rotherham United 2

By Paul Davis | 20/03/2021

The skipper and his 'goal', Smudge and the 100 club and Millers survival could really be on ... the story of Bristol City 0 Rotherham United 2
Whose goal? Richie Wood, possibly, or Zak Vyner scores for the Millers. Pictures by Jim Brailsford

 

'WRECKING Ball' raced away in manic celebration. In his own mind at least, the goal was his.

Rotherham United had just scored for the second time to seal their Championship victory at Bristol City.

It was vintage Richard Wood: a corner, a mass of bodies at the back post, the skipper, through strength of will and physical fearlessness, forcing his head on to it before anyone else.

2-0 Millers, game over, survival push very much on, the skipper mobbed by teammates. Only, hang on a second, didn't the ball go in via a deflection off Robins defender Zak Vyner?

Assistant manager Richie Barker, in charge of proceedings as boss Paul Warne completes his self-isolation, was hedging his bets.

"I have absolutely no idea what happened," he grinned. "I just saw the ball go in the box, loads of people jump up and the ball go in the back of the net."

What a win and what a time to achieve it. Third-bottom Rotherham, in their last outing before the international break, gained ground on all the teams immediately above them, firing their belief that they can escape the drop zone when they return for the run-in in April.

The gap to safety is now only three points, they have four games in hand on their rivals and have the next fortnight to allow momentum and confidence to bubble and simmer.

Winning smiles at 2-0

Victory was fully deserved and the Millers' sixth away triumph of the campaign inflicted a sixth straight home loss on a City side that had started the day in 13th spot.

Centre-half Wood - dubbed 'Wrecking Ball' by Warne for the havoc he wreaks in opposition penalty areas - had no interest in own-goal debates and his warrior face was wreathed in smiles at the final whistle. Woody, the leader, the organiser, the veteran, the Magic Man.

Barker said: "I asked him: 'Is it yours Woody?' He replied: 'Yeah, obviously.' I haven't seen it back so I don't know if it is his or not but, in fairness, I don't care!

"Captains like him are a bit of a dying breed. He's vital to the team, he's vital to the dressing room, he's vital to what we stand for."

THE GAME

Barker knew full well the significance of Saturday's clash. Rotherham needed to get their season back on track after coronavirus had damaged their health literally and metaphorically.

The break would have been long and their prospects bleak had the margin between them and the sanctuary of 21st place remained at six points.

The number two isn't the superstitious type but he was back in his usual dugout shorts after a brief flirtation with tracksuit bottoms had coincided with a midweek loss to Watford.

"I’ve told the players that a lot of the other clubs battling to stay up will look at our result today and wonder how it happened," he said.

"They will be surprised. Only time will tell whether having so many games in hand will prove positive for us. There is so much still to play for. 

"Our training ground is going to be a happy place next week. I am proud of all the players. We need to use the break well and build on this result. 

"We will be playing virtually every three days when we start again, but we will look forward to that challenge."

In the first half, the visitors comfortably defended anything the Robins could throw at them and then took the lead on the stroke of half-time with the first effort on target by either team.

Wes Harding, enjoying a fine first Rotherham season in a variety of positions, sent in a cross from the right that goalkeeper Dan Bentley was certain he had covered until Michael Smith arrived out of nowhere to glance a deft header over him.

One of many Millers victims of the pandemic earlier this month, Barker still hadn't fully recovered, his Covid croak competing with the ever-louder whir of the mowers as they drew closer and closer during his post-match interview on the Ashton Gate touchline.

A century up for Michael Smith

"Although Bristol City had quite a bit of possession in the first half, we were never really under pressure in terms of shots raining in," he said. "We scored at the right time. It gave everyone a bit of a lift going into the break.

"I said at half-time that we were giving too many free-kicks away around the box and that if we kept on doing that we would pay for it. We adjusted a few things."

Michael Ihiekwe's 74th-minute header brought a flying save from Bentley before Wood teamed up with former Millers loanee Vyner at the ensuing corner to deliver the killer blow.

"Woody's claiming it," Barker said. "He wants it and I'd give it to him if it was up to me. One thing I would say is, if Woody wasn't in the penalty area I'm not sure the goal would have gone in. We talk about it all the time: you can't bottle what he has, which is aggression and a desire to score."

Earlier, the Viking, Viktor Johansson, had done superbly to turn Nahki Wells' low shot from a tight angle round the post, but the keeper wasn't troubled again until stoppage time as Rotherham saw out the game without problem.

The Millers had grown stronger the longer the game went on, but Barker could still spot the effects of Covid in his players' legs

"I thought we looked really jaded and tired," he said. "We weren't our normal energetic selves. But what you can never question with this team is their work ethic, desire and will to win.

"The league table looks more attractive this evening. With no games for two weeks, it is nice to sign off with three points."

THE 100 CLUB

Wood's goal was the talking point but Smith's was a more worthy headline-maker as it was the 100th of the targetman's career.

They don't come much more chilled out or humble than Smudge and the striker didn't even know he'd hit the landmark until it was pointed out to him after the game.

"It is a great achievement," Barker said. "I remember when I did it as a player and what it meant to me. He has come a long way in the three years he has been with us. We demand a lot from him. I am really pleased for him."

It was a ninth league goal of the season for Smith - beating his total for the entire campaign when Rotherham were last in the second tier, two years ago - and his 35th in Millers colours.

Barker, a self-contained man from whom praise doesn't flow easily, suffered an attack of compliments and went from saluting his centre-forward to waxing lyrical about his skipper.

Richie Barker

"The lads say what great shape he's in," he said. "He's nearly 36. I remember when I came here four years ago sitting down with Warney and saying: 'What are we going to do with Richard Wood?'

"I said to Woody in the warm-up today: 'If someone had told me back then you'd be captaining us in the Championship four years on, I wouldn't have believed them.'

"It's testimony to him and the way he looks after himself.  I'll look forward to the bottles of champagne he should be sending me and Warney for extending his career these last few years!

By the way, the bookmakers paid out on a Wood goal.

Woody, the leader, the organiser, the veteran, the Magic Man on a day when the odds on the Millers staying up suddenly grew a whole lot shorter.

Goals: Smith 44, Wood 74 (Rotherham).

Bristol City (4-2-3-1): Daniel Bentley; Jack Hunt (Sam Pearson 79), Adrian Mariappa, Tomas Kalas (Zak Vyner 27), Steven Sessegnon; Han-Noah Massengo (Sam Bell 79), Liam Walsh; Kasey Palmer (Henri Lansbury 60), Callum O'Dowda, Nahki Wells; Famara Diedhiou (Antoine Semenyo 60). Subs not used: Max O'Leary, Ryley Towler, Adam Nagy, Tyreeq Bakinson.

Rotherham (3-5-2): Viktor Johansson; Michael Ihiekwe, Richard Wood, Angus MacDonald; Wes Harding, Lewis Wing (Trevor Clarke 87), Dan Barlaser (Shaun MacDonald 87), Matt Crooks, Ryan Giles (Matt Olosunde 65); Freddie Ladapo (Florian Jozefzoon 75), Michael Smith (George Hirst 87). Subs not used: Jamal Blackman, Ben Wiles, Kieran Sadlier.

Referee: Matt Donohue (Manchester).




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