THERE was a birthday in the Rotherham United camp but one man wasn't in the mood to celebrate.
It didn't matter to manager Paul Warne that the Millers had just won for the seventh time in eight games, that they were now three points clear at the top of League One.
The boss was pleased for Freddie Ladapo that the striker, on the day he turned 27, had climbed off the bench to hit the winner in front of a rapturous North Stand.
But Warne wasn't pleased about much else.
"I think we were poor," he said following Saturday's triumph over an enterprising, hard-working Burton Albion side who had arrived at AESSEAL New York Stadium with the third-best away record in the division.
"I hate to say it about my team but we looked lack-lustre."
One player looking anything but lack-lustre was Ladapo who struck within six minutes of coming on in the second half of a contest that could have gone either way.
"For Freddie to get the winning goal on his birthday is pretty special," the manager said. "It wasn't a lively dressing room afterwards. He was the one smiling the most.
"I knew it was his birthday because as I was going for a run this morning my son texted me to tell me. He's like some Instagram/Twitter stalker. If the lads do anything I know about it because my son is like PC Warne."
The chief inspector of discontentment, wishing he'd freshened up his starting 11 after the midweek heroics against Ipswich Town, was asked how it felt to have opened up a gap at the summit.
"Not amazing really," he said before heading off to watch Sheffield Steelers ice hockey and ease his sorrows with a pizza and a couple of beers.
"I'll still be grumpy tomorrow because I'll watch the game back and be frustrated. I know everyone goes on about wins and league positions and all that but, in my opinion, we won't stay up there if we play like that.
"I just want the lads to show themselves at their best every week. They didn't do that against Burton. I'm not hammering them, I'm hammering me. I pick the team. I got it wrong and I'm disappointed with myself.
"They're not dancing around in there. They know they haven't played well. They know they've got away with one, although they're pleased we've won."
With that Warne took his heavy heart and drove it to Sheffield Arena with his own clan and the family of coach Matt Hamshaw.
He was so wrapped up in his dissatisfaction that it was too soon for perspective. This was actually a good day for the Millers, an afternoon where they had the spirit to scrap against their inadequacies and still come out on top.
Maybe, as he tucked into a slice of thin base pepperoni a couple of hours later, an encouraging truth will have rested more comfortably on him.
The teams who win promotion are the ones who most often grind out victories when they're not at their best.
Opportunities came thick and fast. Almost as many for Burton as there were for Rotherham.
Kyle Vassell shot wide for the home side when he was sprung clear by Hakeeb Adelakun after only 90 seconds, Burton went ahead in the seventh minute as Jamie Murphy cut inside to curl in a shot from the left and the Millers levelled three minutes later, Michael Smith scoring smartly with a low shot following Matt Crooks' pass.
Dan Iversen had to save twice in quick succession, denying Stephen Quinn and then turning Murphy's shot on to the post, Smith was only inches from connecting with Chiedozie Ogbene's superb cross, Iversen thwarted Quinn again, Ogbene's fierce effort brought a great save from Kieran O'Hara and Matt Crooks headed off target.
"I thought we created enough chances to win comfortably but we conceded enough chances to lose comfortably," Warne said. "We were second to most of the balls. There were pockets where we looked a bit more like ourselves.
"I should have made changes from Tuesday but they were so good against Ipswich that it's difficult to pull apart a side that wins like that. The lads looked jaded. The excitement and big furore of Tuesday night emotionally drained a few of them."
Within 40 seconds of the restart, Smith headed in Dan Barlaser's corner, Oliver Sarkic responded with a thumping finish 75 seconds later and Crooks was just wide with a 50th-minute volley.
Just after the hour mark, Rotherham should have been behind but Lucas Akins somehow managed to skew the ball wide of an unguarded net from inside the six-yard box. It was a game-swinging miss.
Time for Ladapo, time for a player who looked determined to win back his place, time for an attacker who was in a hurry to bag his 13th goal of the campaign.
There was none of the usual gold in Freddie's braided hair but plenty in his left boot as he flashed the winner past O'Hara from 17 yards when fellow sub Ben Wiles cleverly played the ball into his path from Ogbene's cross.
The first of Michael Smith's two goals
"I didn't get Freddie a card," Ogbene grinned. "He never mentioned it was his birthday. I played a part in his goal, though, so that can be my present to him."
Meanwhile, forget 12-goal Smith and the hot streak he's on, forget the quality and importance of Ladapo's contribution, disregard how Burton crafted and grafted until tiring late on because this was the James Adcock Show.
There was a touch of the Mike Deans about the Nottinghamshire official as he puffed his chest, puffed up his feeling of self-importance and puffed out one bad decision after another on an afternoon he thought was all about him.
"W*nker, w*nker, w*nker" was the verdict of a North Stand that rarely accepts any nonsense.
It is indeed a referee with a high opinion of himself who can invent a completely new rule. In Adcock's world when a goalkeeper handles a back-pass in his own penalty area, as Albion's Kieran O'Hara clearly did before the break, it's a corner.
Michael Ihiekwe almost extended the Millers' advantage against the best visiting side seen at New York other than Oxford United with a 77th-minute header from Wiles' corner that was spectacularly clawed away by O'Hara.
"Burton were excellent," Warne said. "We'll meet up again on Monday and go through the match with a fine-tooth comb. If you can learn after a victory then it's a good thing.
"I know it's all about winning matches but I'm all about the level of performance.
"Our fans were good. They stayed with the team. I think they could appreciate we were struggling a little bit. Earlier in the season they might not have stayed with them. I think they trust the team more now.
"That game could easily have gone the other way. If Akins' chance had gone in we would have had a right battle on. The first goal - letting people inside - is unacceptable. For the second goal, Joe Mattock is out of position and they get in."
Finally, the manager found a reason to be cheerful: "The lads' character to come back every time they had a setback was good."
Warne might not have been smiling after the final whistle but lethal Ladapo certainly was.
He hugged Hamshaw, embraced goalkeeping coach Andy Warrington and even shared a moment with the club's head of medical, Paul Gambles.
Warne had predicted what would happen.
"We gave Freddie a round of applause before the game," he said. "I told him: 'No doubt you're going to score the winner.'"
Fittingly, the game ended with Ladapo running down the clock and turning on the tricks.
The birthday boy took the ball into the corner where North Stand meets Family Stand. Three times Burton tried to take the ball off him and three times they failed.
On every occasion, to the noisy delight of the crowd, he held off opponents, beat them for skill, slipped round them and finished up, still in possession, back in exactly the same spot.
Many happy returns.
Rotherham (4-4-2): Dan Iversen; Adam Thompson, Michael Ihiekwe, Richard Wood, Joe Mattock; Chiedozie Ogbene, Matt Crooks, Dan Barlaser (Matt Olosunde 75), Hakeeb Adelakun (Ben Wiles 61); Kyle Vassell (Freddie Ladapo 65), Michael Smith. Subs not used: Laurence Bilboe, Trevor Clarke, Jamie Lindsay, Shaun MacDonald.
Burton (4-1-4-1): Kieran O'Hara; John Brayford, John-Joe O'Toole, Jake Buxton, Colin Daniel (Reece Hutchinson 88); Conor Shaughnessy; Oliver Sarkic, Ryan Edwards (Joe Powell 83), Stephen Quinn, Jamie Murphy; Lucas Akins. Subs not used: Ben Garratt, Kieran Wallace, Scott Fraser, Joe Sbarra, Richard Nartey.
Goals: Smith 10, 46, Ladapo 71 (Rotherham); Murphy 7, Sarkic 47 (Burton).
Referee: James Adcock (Nottinghamshire).
Attendance: 8,563 (540).
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