Up to second, Paul Warne's appeal to fans and why the manager wanted a quiet night in ... the story of Rotherham United 3 Cambridge United 1

Up to second, Paul Warne's appeal to fans and why the manager wanted a quiet night in ... the story of Rotherham United 3 Cambridge United 1

By Paul Davis | 21/11/2021

Up to second, Paul Warne's appeal to fans and why the manager wanted a quiet night in ... the story of Rotherham United 3 Cambridge United 1
Goal joy for Dan Barlaser. Pictures by Dave Poucher

 

PAUL Warne danced out of the media suite to keep a date with his favourite TV programme.

His better half had optimistically suggested a meal out but the lovely Rachel was hoping in vain.

With the expense of Christmas just around the corner, the Rotherham United manager was keen to keep his money in his pocket.

So Saturday night's treat would be watching Strictly and any early festive cheer would have to come from the Millers stretching their undefeated run and quick-stepping their way into the automatic-promotion places in League One.

3-1 ... it sounds so simple, so routine, so trouble-free, yet it was anything but.

The midtable visitors came to have a go and did so in the second half to such effect that, with 11 minutes to go, they'd clawed their way back into the contest at 2-1 down and were threatening an equaliser.

Warne, a concerned figure in his technical area, raised his arms and turned to the Millers' 12th man for assistance. Suddenly, AESSEAL New York Stadium was alive with noise and possibilities again as he got the response he was seeking.

"Sometimes, how the fans feel is how the players feel," the boss said. "The players feed off the atmosphere in the stadium. When you're the home team and the fans are feeling nervous, a bit jittery, and are going 'We need this extra goal', that can transmit itself to the team.

"It's not very often I do it. In fact, I don't think in the five years I've managed I've ever tried to encourage the crowd to cheer before.

"I don't want people to turn up here, thinking 'Oh, we're going to win again today' and have this expectancy level.

"I think the lads have performed really well this season and they really appreciate the crowd's help when they need it. Today was one of those days when they needed it."

Two minutes after Warne's interjection, Freddie Ladapo met Mickel Miller's cross and thumped a striker's header right into the middle of the net.

Fourteen games unbeaten, second place.

THE MATCH

Richard Wood was running around feeling like a kid again.

For once, Rotherham's veteran skipper wasn't the oldest player on the pitch, that status belonging to Cambridge's Wes Hoolahan, senior by three years at the age of 39.

The hoo-hah about Hoolahan was justified as the U's ran everything through the impish little Irishman who gave the best individual display by a visiting player at New York this season.

"They were a really good away side," Warne said. "We were a bit rusty after the international break and weren't at our absolute best, but that's credit to Cambridge.

"We were crossing from too deep in the first half. They were getting a lot of men behind the ball, but then breaking really well. They didn't allow us to sustain attacks and caused us more problems than many so-called 'better' teams have here."

The disgust was still rumbling round New York after referee Andy Davies' refusal to award a penalty for Harrison Dunk's obvious trip on Chiedozie Ogbene when the Millers took a 33rd-minute lead.

The Millers take the lead

Shane Ferguson crossed from the left and Ben Wiles received a 10 from each judge for the poise and sweetness of the low volley that flashed into the back of the net before goalkeeper Dimitar Mitov, who had earlier denied Will Grigg, could move.

The woodwork saved the Millers when George Williams was picked out at the back post by Hoolahan before a Cambridge comedy of errors saw the home side double their advantage seconds before the break.

Conor Masterson was anything but masterful as he and his defensive colleagues tried to deal with a long ball and Ladapo's persistence was rewarded when his tangle with Jack Iredale led to the ref, perhaps looking to atone for his earlier error, pointing to the spot.

There was only one outcome when Dan Barlaser stepped up.

The Millers were lacking their banned top scorer, missing from a league squad for the first time since his January 2018 switch from Bury, and illness had ruled out an influential midfielder.

No Michael Smith, no Ollie Rathbone, no problem.

Ladapo stepped up when he needed to and Barlaser was so good, so silky, so controlled in the centre of the park that even Hoolahan doffed his cap.

Meanwhile, Warne was thinking more about his wallet than his wife.

"The missus was rumouring that we were going for food in Sheffield," he mused. "I ain't so keen."

Cambridge had the appetite to fight back and six minutes after the interval Hoolahan's deft back-heel released Sam Smith whose precision, curled finish complemented the quality of the set-up.

Freddie Ladapo makes sure of three points

"They started the second half well," Warne said. "You're thinking: 'Oh my god, is it going to be one of those days where we end up hanging on for a point?'

"I thought the lads rode the storm really well. I think the win mostly goes to the back three. They won crucial headers at crucial times."

The contest swung thrillingly from end to end, Kieran Sadlier unpicking the U's rearguard and testing Mitov and Hoolahan making the most of a Wiles slip to release James Brophy who flashed a low effort just wide.

Then came Warne's call to arms, Miller's pinpoint delivery and the flying Ladapo connecting in front of the North Stand.

Team and followers were as one in the closing stages as New York rocked and Cambridge were rolled over and only late Mitov saves from Wiles and Josh Kayode prevented Rotherham adding to the 20 goals they have scored in their last six outings.

"My theory on football at this club is quite obvious," Warne said. "I just think everyone's in it together: the fans, the players, the staff, the owner. We win together, we lose together.

"And when you're struggling, you need everybody to help. You need the players to dig in when they're not possibly at their best and you need the fans to help out.

"We had a lot of chances and on another day we might have scored more. We deserved the win."

THE RETURN

He ran on to the pitch as Sadlier's replacement in the 75th minute and within 30 seconds he was having a row and making a tackle.

Jamie Lindsay was back.

The midfielder, after a seven-week absence, was one of three substitutes who all had a telling effect on the game. "Not subs, game-changers," Warne said.

"I thought Sads played well. He picked up the ball in really good pockets," he added. "But at the time we were sort of losing the fight a bit. There's no better terrier to put on the pitch than Jamie, so I let him go on and chew at a few ankles."

The manager was still defending his hankering for an evening at home.

"Christmas is coming and Christmas is expensive in my house," he said. "And it's getting worse. The kids' expectations of what Santa can do surprise me, let me tell you."

Ah, expectations again. For the Millers, inevitably, they're growing, despite their boss wishing otherwise. They're playing too well, picking up too many points, meeting too many challenges head on for it to be any other way.

From destroying teams to digging in, they can win in a variety of ways.

"Powerful, aggressive, relentless, ruthless," said Cambridge boss Mark Bonner.

Warne donned his dancing shoes and settled happily into his seat for Strictly. His side are hardly putting a foot wrong.

**********************

Goals: Wiles 33, Barlaser pen 45+1, Ladapo 81 (Rotherham); Smith 51 (Cambridge).

Attendance: 9,534 (399).

The Millers

Formation: 3-5-2

Josh Vickers: 7

Nothing he could do about a well-taken goal. Solid in everything he did.

Rarmani Edmonds-Green: 7

There were spells when the Millers were on the back foot and the youngster played a full part in keeping Cambridge out. Not a day to look pretty. Shirked nothing.

Richard Wood: 7

Because of the type of man he is, the skipper will have enjoyed it most when Cambridge were asking questions. Always there to protect Rotherham's net when the pressure was on. Hit one of the passes of the game too: a raking, 70-yard ball out of defence that earned the Millers a corner

Wes Harding: 7

Very much like his two defensive partners. Some great covering work when the visitors looked like they might break through.

Chiedozie Ogbene: 7

The U's doubled up on him, tripled up on him and still he found a way through. International football is making him a cuter player. Not all about his pace as he played some clever balls inside.

Ben Wiles: 8

Not his best performance of the season by any means yet still merits an 8. His goal perked him up after a slowish start. A couple of careless mistakes - one of which almost let in Cambridge for an equaliser - but also some devastating running with the ball. As skilful as he is quick and tireless.

Dan Barlaser: 9

League One royalty when it comes to passing. Long live the ping. Looks up, sees his man and drops the ball at his feet from 60 yards. Again and again. Covered a lot of ground as well as he mixed craft with graft.

Kieran Sadlier: 6

Some lovely touches but decorated the game rather than dominated it. Superb skill in the second half that shredded the U's defence and saw him get a shot on goal was as good as anything seen all afternoon.

Shane Ferguson: 7

Always gets his cross away. A man completely in control of what he's doing and who knows exactly what his job is. Such a clever, little player.

Will Grigg: 6

Managed to look sharp and be fairly quiet at the same time. There's always a goal threat when he's near the ball but this was one of his less-effective afternoons.

Freddie Ladapo: 8

Fair play to Freddie, he's really upped his game since Grigg's arrival. Energetic and committed. Won the penalty with his refusal to give up the chase and then bagged a real poacher's goal with an emphatic header.

The subs

Mickel Miller (for Ferguson 64): 7

The perfect player to bring on when the opposition are tiring. Pace and poise and he ran Cambridge ragged down their right flank. Yet another assist off the bench saw Ladapo seal the victory.

Josh Kayode (for Grigg 68): 6

Made an impact. Had a chance to score his first Millers goal. You could feel the crowd willing the ball to go in.

Jamie Lindsay (for Sadlier 75): 6

Introduced at a crucial time and did a vital job. His presence not only made Rotherham stronger defensively, it allowed other players to get forward so they could score again.

Not used: Viktor Johansson, Michael Ihiekwe, Tolaji Bola, Hakeem Odoffin.

Cambridge (4-1-4-1): Dimitar Mitov 7; George Williams 6, Conor Masterson 6, Jack Iredale 6, Harrison Dunk 6; Paul Digby 6 (Jensen Weir 87); Sam Smith 7, Adam May 6, Wes Hoolahan 9 (Harvey Knibbs 83), James Brophy 8; Joe Ironside 7. Subs not used: Kai McKenzie-Lyle, Jubril Okedina, Shilow Tracey, Jack Lankester, Ben Worman.

Referee: Andy Davis (Hampshire): 5

Opposition view

“I thought we were very good.

"We have come up against a team who are outstanding and way above the level athletically of anyone we have played this season.

"Rotherham are a powerful, aggressive, hard-running, relentless and ruthless team. I would be amazed if they don't get promoted. It would be a good side who finished above them.

“I thought our wide players, and Wes (Hoolahan) and Joey (Joe Ironside) gave a real good account of themselves. We’ve had to work incredibly hard to be in that game.

“The timing of the second goal obviously hurt us. If we could have got in at 1-0 at half-time, it’d have been better for us.

“Rotherham work it back to front really quickly, they counter-attack brilliantly and they’re excellent on set-plays. It’s why they’re on the run they are."

- U's boss Mark Bonner

The stats

Possession: Millers 55 per cent , Cambridge 45 pc

Goal attempts: Millers 22 , Cambridge 10

On target: Millers 11 , Cambridge 2

Corners: Millers 7, Cambridge 2

Fouls: Millers 9, Cambridge 8

Final word

Another game, another way of winning. Rotherham look a complete package at this level.


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