Dinners and winners, red-hot New York Stadium and the strange view of the opposition boss ... the story of Rotherham United 1 Ipswich Town 0

MICHAEL Smith piled the prizes on to his plate at Rotherham United's end-of-season dinner.
Goal joy for Michael Smith. Pictures by Dave PoucherGoal joy for Michael Smith. Pictures by Dave Poucher
Goal joy for Michael Smith. Pictures by Dave Poucher

Two days later, he tucked into Ipswich Town.

The centre-forward had gone seven matches without a League One strike as the Millers' promotion push had wobbled but 77 minutes into Saturday's lunch-time clash everything was gloriously changing.

While all around him sweated and fretted as the mercury climbed at AESSEAL New York Stadium, the 30-year-old coolly despatched the goal that ended a run of three straight defeats, shot his team above MK Dons and returned them to the division's top two.

He and Rotherham were coming good again just when it mattered.

The unerring, first-time flash of his right boot brought goal number 25 for the season and three points that saw the race for the Championship take another thrilling twist.

The unassuming Geordie gets excited by very little but even he lost his head in the New York maelstrom as three sides of the stadium exploded and his six-foot-four-inch frame wheeled away in little-boy delight.

Smith steers in the winner

"I can't really remember much about it, to be honest," he said. "I'd had exactly the same chance in training on Friday and put it wide but this time I put it in the bottom corner. Don't ask me about my celebration, I've not got a clue what I did."

Later in an amazing day, there was a setback for leaders Wigan Athletic and, much more importantly, MK were unable to respond to the gauntlet the Millers had thrown down to them.

At the final whistle, Paul Warne made straight for Smith, the manager going to his go-to guy. It was the first of many Millers hugs.

Smudge was back and so were Rotherham.

THE MATCH

You could see what it meant to the players, hear what it meant to the crowd.

Smith was hit by an avalanche of ecstatic teammates and supporters, creating the best atmosphere of the campaign, had New York shaking with noise.

"The fans were brilliant," Warne said. "It makes a massive difference to the players, so I thank them for that."

This was no easy game. Big-spending Ipswich's play-off hopes had all but gone but they arrived in South Yorkshire with their star names rejuvenated by new boss Kieran McKenna.

Wes Burns, continually exploiting space down the Millers' left flank in the first half, gave James Norwood an eighth-minute, empty-net tap-in that the striker somehow tapped too high and too wide.

Rotherham, making changes in personnel and playing 3-4-3 after 3-5-2 had brought a solitary victory in seven league games, dug deep and dug in, creating sights of goal for Wes Harding, Michael Ihiekwe and Ollie Rathbone but doing their best work out of possession in the face of the visitors' fluid counter-attacking.

"I thought we were edgy," Warne said. "We didn't do our tidy-up passes very well, we didn't press and make it difficult enough for a very good team. If you give them time on the ball they're going to pick the right pass.

"At half-time I just asked the lads to be a bit calmer. I said: 'Just make your tidy-up pass better and once you do you'll have an opportunity to get at them.'"

Advice dispensed, the boss sent out the unstoppable Millers of October and November for the second half.

Ipswich were pushed back, penned in. There was no way out and nowhere to go once Harding's long throw had messed up their penalty area and Jordi Osei-Tutu's blocked shot had fallen to the feet of the home team's Player of the Year, Players' Player of the Year and Community Player of the Year.

Relishing the improvement in his team and his top scorer, Warne hit on a novel idea for maintaining the new-found momentum.

"Smudge won all the awards on Thursday night and maybe felt good about himself," he said. "Having everyone coming up to him and telling him how great he is might have given him a boost. We're all human. Everyone wants to be respected and loved.

"We'll obviously now have an end-of-season do on Monday and Thursday and every week going forward."

Celebration time

Within five minutes of the restart, Smith headed wide, Chiedozie Ogbene was inches away from heading in Osei-Tutu's cross and Rarmani Edmonds-Green drove a shot not far off target.

This was rampant Rotherham, the real Rotherham, asking for nothing yet starting to take everything.

Burns forced a superb stop from Viktor Johansson but nearly all the action was at the other end and there could have been two more goals for Smith who was denied by Christian Walton's point-blank stop and headed over during nine minutes of added time.

"I thought we were excellent in the second half," said Warne. "It was a good day in the sun. It was the result we needed and also the performance we needed. The lads will get a massive boost from it. The dressing room was buzzing afterwards."

MISGUIDED McKENNA

"It just turned into a game of set-plays. It became a barrage of corners and throw-ins that we couldn't handle."

Ipswich's McKenna became yet another manager to be bothered about what he perceived to be the Millers' route-one approach.

Maybe he ought to look at his own side, who gave away 16 fouls to Rotherham's four, if he doesn't want see the ball in his own box so often.

Town were responsible for the number of set-pieces, putting the ball out of play for momentary relief as they wilted under the onslaught.

Meanwhile, following on from the awards bash, Warne had another dinner date to keep on Saturday night: a get-together of his family and the Richie Barker clan at a little place near his home in Tickhill.

The boss disappeared into the night trying to persuade his number two not to make them all watch the MK clash with Sheffield Wednesday on TV as part of the evening's fun.

"Me and Rich shouldn't go out socially because we spend so much time together as it is," he sighed.

He was tired but he was happy. 'A good day in the sun,' he'd said. And it would go on to get even better.

Wigan lost at home, MK's 15-match unbeaten run came to an end and Rotherham's promotion fate was securely in their own grip heading into the last four games.

Digest that three-course feast, Millers fans.

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Goal: Michael Smith 77

Attendance: 9,394 (1,087)

The Millers

Formation: 3-4-3

Viktor Johansson: 6

A stunning save at a crucial time allowed Rotherham to go on and win the game but the Viking looked nervy in his decision-making and his kicking wasn't what it can be.

Rarmani Edmonds-Green: 8

Back in the league side for only the second time since his January hamstring tear. It's easy to forget just how good he can be. Has got a turn of pace and snuffs out danger almost before the opposition can create it. Very comfortable in possession.

Michael Ihiekwe: 8

The sponsors gave him the Man-of-the-Match award. They might have got it wrong but not by much. Good on the ground, solid in the air.

Wes Harding: 8

A rock in defence and drove forward whenever he could. An excellent display.

Jordi Osei-Tutu: 8

This lad is coming on very quickly after a slow start to his loan spell. A rapid menace down both flanks and a nuisance in Ipswich's penalty area. Made a lot of yards and got back well.

Jamie Lindsay: 8

He was here, he was there, then he was somewhere else before being here again. An influence everywhere. What a tirelesss shift he put in. Ipswich were sick of him.

Ollie Rathbone: 8

Not at his best in the first half, so good in the second he was named Sky Bet Man of the Match. Took the game to Ipswich, took the game away from Ipswich.

Mickel Miller: 6

Can be poetry in motion at times but not enough motion on this day as he had to come off midway through the first half. Injuries are becoming a real problem for him.

Chiedozie Ogbene: 6

There aren't many games where Chieo is one of the least effective players but this was one of them. Not terrible, just nowhere near his best.

Michael Smith: 8

No coincidence that as he, Rathbone and Dan Barlaser came good again so did Rotherham. Ipswich defended well but not well enough to hold a striker who gave all three of their centre-halves trouble. Great to see him among the goals again. When he plays well so do the Millers.

Ben Wiles: 8

Moments of beauty. There is no finer sight - other than Ogbene in full flight maybe - than Wiles lining up an opponent and beating him all ends up with quick feet and pace.

The subs:

Dan Barlaser (for Miller 23): 7

More like it from the midfield man who had been dropped because of a lack of form. Good response to being on the bench. Normal service resumed on his set-piece deliveries.

Richard Wood (for Osei-Tutu 90): NA

Slotted in to help see out the match.

Not used: Josh Chapman, Joe Mattock, Shane Ferguson, Freddie Ladapo, Josh Kayode.

Ipswich (3-5-2): Christian Walton 7; Janoi Donacien 8, Luke Woolfenden 8, Elkan Baggott 7; Wes Burns 8, Tyreeq Bakinson 5, Sam Morsy 6, Bersant Celina 5 (Joe Pigott 79), Dominic Thompson 6; Sone Aluko 6 (Conor Chaplin 66, 5), James Norwood 5 (Macauley Bonne 66, 5). Subs not used: Vaclav Hladky, Matt Penney, Idris El Mizouni, Tom Carroll.

Referee: Peter Wright (Merseyside): 6

Opposition view

"It was a good performance against a very difficult team to play against. I thought we stood up to the physical threat well. We posed Rotherham all sorts of problems and we had the clearest chance in the whole game in the first half. I think they were probably glad to get to half-time at 0-0.

"The second half was a completely different game. They managed to physically impose themselves in the first few minutes and just turned into a game of set-plays. The ball was hardly in play the whole half. It just became a barrage of corners and throw-ins that we weren't able to stand up to.

"We weren't able to get the ball in play enough and secure enough possession to keep them away from our goal. That made things hard against a team who are very, very good at that phase of the game.

"There were no surprises from Rotherham. They do what they do well and they've done it over a number of years. We knew exactly what to expect."

- Ipswich boss Kieran McKenna

The stats

Possession: Millers 47 per cent, Ipswich 53 pc

Goal attempts: Millers 14, Ipswich 3

On target: Millers 3, Ipswich 1

Corners: Millers 10, Ipswich 6

Fouls: Millers 4, Ipswich 16

Final word

Couldn't afford to lose, needed to win. They won.