The win, the white kit, the weekend off, the away end and six points clear ... the story of Lincoln City 0 Rotherham United 1

By Paul Davis | 08/02/2020

The win, the white kit, the weekend off, the away end and six points clear ... the story of Lincoln City 0 Rotherham United 1
Match-winner Matt Crooks. Pictures by Kerrie Beddows

PAUL Warne was out of the dressing room quickly after a victory that had promotion written all over it.

The manager was keen for his weekend to begin.

Ecstatic Rotherham United fans were still filing out of the stadium as he emerged, wrapped up against the cold of a February Friday night, on the touchline to discuss the large gap his side had just opened up at the top of League One and how they'd done it.

He was happy but in a hurry to meet up with his loved ones for a two-day break and make the most of a rare weekend off.

All Rotherham's rivals would be in action the next day and again on Tuesday when the Millers were without a game because they should have been playing now-defunct Bury.

But Warne knew that his side would still be in pole position come Wednesday regardless of how other teams fared.

That's what eight victories in your last nine league games, winning more matches than any other club and having the best away record in the division does for you.

"I'm taking my wife and kids to Center Parcs," the boss said. "I'm really, really looking forward to that. I need a weekend away from my phone. I won't look at any of the scores on Saturday.

"Wah," he added in admission that he would indeed be looking at all the scores.

"We don't play on Tuesday night when there's a full fixture list so all the staff are going off to watch different games," he went on.

"I could imagine if I was a Sunderland or Portsmouth fan seeing us winning 1-0 tonight and going: 'Argh.' It's a good win. We can only win our games and try our best. Tonight we tried our best. We didn't play our best but we tried our best. A win's a win."

Adding gloriously to the sense of occasion were 1,745 away fans.

"More than 1,700. It's not bad, is it?" Warne said. "It's brilliant so many of them made the effort to come on a Friday. We didn't play our best but fans want to see you win. They left singing so everyone is happy.

The away end was a sight to behold: sold out, packed out, hearts out, arms out, in full voice from first to final whistle and beyond. It was bursting with people, with life, with hope and expectation, with pride and with solidarity, with 'We are top of the league, I say we are top of the league.'

THE GAME

A GREAT display it wasn't, a great night it was.

Playing against the wind, Rotherham could have been blown off course by Lincoln City before the interval but improved after the break and controlled the second half bar a couple of late scares.

After Chiedozie Ogbene had seen two shots blocked for the visitors only the full-stretch heroics of Dan Iversen kept out Jorge Grant's header while Harry Anderson skied a golden opportunity when he was picked out by Jake Hesketh's cross.

"I've got mixed feelings about the game," Warne said. "To win is great news. We were much better in the second half than the first.

"I don't think we played the conditions as well as they did in the first half. We told the lads a few things at half-time and tried to boost them up so they would play a bit more like us in the second half.

"The only disappointment for me is that we did concede a few chances . We rode our luck a little bit but to win a football match you're going to have to do that. Overall, I'm pretty pleased."

Matt Crooks won it for the Millers two minutes into the second period with a superb header, then slid to his knees and raised his fingers and eyes to the sky in tribute to the best friend he'd tragically lost a fortnight earlier, Jordan Sinnott.

Warne was in a contented mood. He'd been unhappy in victory over Burton Albion the previous weekend but was far less wound up this time.

He and coach Matt Hamshaw were driving straight off to their temporary base in Sherwood where their families and a crate of beer were waiting for them.

"I was disappointed that we didn't play great in our last home game even though we won," he said.

"This seems a little bit more tolerable to me, a win away from home against a side with a good home record. It was a full house. Lincoln are playing the top of the table so they raise their game. For us to 'ug' (ugly) out a 1-0 win is pretty pleasing."

After Crooks' breakthrough, Anderson shot wastefully off target from a good position but the Millers responded with one of the moments of the match when Vassell beautifully lifted the ball over an opponent's head and closed in on goal only for Josh Vickers to be equal to his fierce shot.

Richard Wood kept Rotherham's lead intact by clearing the ball close to the goalline as Tyreece John-Jules' 80th-minute touch was heading in and Iversen excelled again as the contest moved into stoppage time, saving from the same player when the Imps man was clean through.

"We changed the set-pieces completely in the second half," Warne said. "We were a bit more dynamic on them. We were a little bit better at getting down the sides of Lincoln and getting crosses into the box. We broke really well.

"Credit to Lincoln, they've got some 'cajones' and play out from the back. If we had stopped them playing out it would have been a more comfortable win for us, I think.

"They're a really good team at home. They have a better home record than us. They cause you problems so to come away with a win is great.

"I was pretty calm. Lincoln were always a chance away from being back in it but I didn't have a great fear they would hit the back of the net. Their play deserved a goal, in fairness to them. 

"I said to Rich (assistant boss Barker) at half-time: 'Would you take a point now?' We always ask that because me and Rich are quite negative. He said: 'Yeah, I would.' I said: 'I would too'."

Instead, Rotherham took all three.

Kyle Vassell take the game to Lincoln

It's wins like this - against tough opponents when you're not at your best - on which promotion campaigns are built. Get in, get out, thank you, goodbye, six points clear.

The floodlights picked out the Millers' all-white kit. There was romance in the image, a touch of magic. They were tested, they were questioned, they stood up, they found answers.

It was a symbol of the night, a sign for the campaign. This season is meant to be this way. We all know from the movies that the guys in white come out on top in the end.

THE FOLLOWING

They sang, how they sang, words of acclaim bouncing round Sincil Bank before floating off celestially like hymns towards the nearby cathedral. The supporters are as much a part of this journey as the players.

On form, the Millers are the best side in the division. Slightly off form, they are still finding ways to win.

The goal spoke of everything that is good about Warne's men as they take care of business at the business end of the season.

Dan Barlaser's pass was too perfect for Lincoln, Vassell's power and control too much, his cross too accurate, Crooks' desire to get on the end of it too strong.

'We are Rotherham, we are Rotherham.'

Hamshaw, unless he has a beef with the referee, is usually fairly restrained when hostilities are over. This time he was different.

In the Lincolnshire night the Millers had put significant daylight between themselves and the chasing pack and he knew how significant that was.

A figure in a black tracksuit, not quite as svelte as he was in his playing days, was standing in the middle of the pitch manically cheerleading the celebrations going on in a chaotic away stand.

Warne might have been waiting to get his weekend party started.

For Hammy and 1,745 joyous followers it was already in full flow.

Lincoln (4-1-4-1): Josh Vickers; Neal Eardley, Cian Bolger, Jason Shackell, Max Melbourne; Liam Bridcutt; Harry Anderson (Tom Hopper 82), Jake Hesketh (Anthony Scully 72), Joe Morrell, Jorge Grant; Tyreece John-Jules. Subs not used: Charlie Andrew, Jack Payne, Ellis Chapman, Conor Coventry, Tayo Edun.

Rotherham (4-4-2): Dan Iversen; Adam Thompson, Michael Ihiekwe, Richard Wood, Ben Wiles; Chiedozie Ogbene (Josh Koroma 79), Matt Crooks, Dan Barlaser, Hakeeb Adelkun (Shaun MacDonald 90); Kyle Vassell (Freddie Ladapo 76), Michael Smith. Subs not used: Laurence Bilboe, Jamie Lindsay, Matt Olosunde, Trevor Clarke.

Goals: Crooks 47 (Rotherham).

Referee: Martin Coy (Durham).

Attendance: 9,876 (1,745).



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