Warne, the fans and the coming-together that brought a crucial victory ... the story of Rotherham United 3 Blackburn Rovers 2

THE call to arms came in the 81st minute.
Semi Ajayi scores the third goal. Pictures by Steve MettamSemi Ajayi scores the third goal. Pictures by Steve Mettam
Semi Ajayi scores the third goal. Pictures by Steve Mettam

Rotherham were winning but wobbling against Blackburn Rovers and priceless survival points were at stake. 2-1 wasn't enough and the tension was building. The Millers needed more.

Manager Paul Warne turned to the fans, raising his arms in an urgent plea for increased support, gesturing for the faithful to lift the volume.

No words were spoken but the message was clear: 'Back us and we can beat them.'

The crowd responded. Oh how they responded. The fervour flew furiously from the stands at AESSEAL New York Stadium. Where there had been nerves, there was noise, where there had been doubt, there was din.

Two minutes later, Semi Ajayi rose majestically in front of a demented kop to meet Will Vaulks' cross.


"I was begging the fans to shout and scream," Warne said. "As soon as they do, it's no surprise the lads are then a lot further up the pitch and driving forward.

"I don't know if anyone else could feel it but it was tense. I said to the players at half-time: 'You've got a responsibility to get the fans behind you.' But then I think the fans have got a responsibility to get the team going as well. It's a win-win then. The fans were fantastic."

Two-goal hero

It wouldn't be Rotherham if there wasn't a late scare and Blackburn scored a penalty in time added on.

But this was the Millers' day, Warne's day, the supporters' day.

A first win since January 1, the unbeaten run stretched to six matches, the stadium and the fight for continued Championship status more alive than ever.


"It sounds a stupid thing to say, but I think we scored too early," said Warne "For the first minute and a half we were good. Then we weren't."

Rotherham led after only 96 seconds, Ajayi rising unchallenged to head home Will Vaulks' long throw.

Reading boss Jose Gomes may sniff at such directness, but watching Wales boss Ryan Giggs, attracted to New York by Vaulks' Welsh heritage, will have been impressed with the huge part the midfielder played in all three Millers goals.

Neither side were great up to the break but Blackburn threw players up front as they changed things at half-time, penned in the home team and an equaliser wasn't long in coming.

The second period was only six minutes old when the man with the strange apostrophe in his name took advantage of the Millers' failure to clear Charlie Mulgrew's free-kick: Amari'i Bell, back post, volley, goa'l.

But Rovers were as bad at the back as they were good going forward and, six minutes later, Vaulks crossed, Michael Smith headed down for substitute Ryan Williams to score his first goal since January 2018.

Willo the Wisp was on to Smith's header like lightning, firing the ball into the roof of the net from close range, then Warne was just as quick to react with his appeal to spectators when the contest was ready to turn either way.

"That's why home teams all over the world do better than away teams," the boss said. "The home fans give you that extra bit."

Will Vaulks

Sub Ben Wiles fed Vaulks, the future Welsh international crossed, Ajayi's power header gave David Raya no chance and the holding midfielder Warne calls "Toblerone Head" celebrated his third goal in two games as crazily as anyone in an exultant stadium.

"We've played better," the manager added. "We're unbeaten in six games, which is impressive for us, but we were better in the previous five.

"I've been critical of the team in recent weeks for not taking their chances but today we probably took 100 per cent of them."

Mulgrew struck from the spot when Michael Ihiekwe fouled Danny Graham in the 93rd minute but it was to be only a footnote in a triumph that sees the third-from-bottom Millers keep pace with Reading with 11 games to go.

By the end, Rotherham had harried, run and pressed any semblance of politeness out of Tony Mowbray.

The Blackburn boss was taciturn to the point of rudeness in his after-match press conference and clearly didn't want to be at New York for a second longer than he needed to be.

Warne, who treasures pounds in the same way he does points, was happy to hang around, knowing that going home would only hit him in the pocket.

"Willo's goal," he said. "Now have to buy him a scorer's mug, don't I? That will be £5.99 online tonight. I might put in an expenses claim but I know the club won't pay it. It's a disaster."


Saturday was a 'Kids Takeover' occasion at New York and youngsters shadowed key staff, including Warne, throughout the afternoon.

Rawmarsh lad Wiles, still in his teens, got into the spirit of the event, excelling in his bout of work experience when he entered the fray after 53 minutes.

The midfielder, who had lost his place only through injury, was behind much of the Millers' best work as they reclaimed the lead and then took the game away from Rovers before Mulgrew had home hearts in mouths.

Ben Wiles

"I thought it would be a nice day for us to enjoy the final few minutes of a game for once," Warne grinned. "We don't make it easy for ourselves, but then I think we're good value for money. 

"If you buy a ticket to watch us, you might as well stay here for 95 minutes because something is going to happen. 

"I said to the lads afterwards, when in 15 years' time you look at Sky Sports News and see that ex-Rotherham manager Paul Warne has died, remember this game and know you played a part in my early death."

The stakes had been high before kick-off and were made even higher by Reading - above Warne's squad only on goal difference - claiming the spoils in the 90th minute at Ipswich Town.

Rotherham won the game they had to win. And results elsewhere saw Millwall and Wigan Athletic slip back into the relegation mix.

"It's all about points at this stage of the season, it's not about performances," Warne acknowledged. "We weren't at our best against Blackburn but we've come away with the points and dragged one or two teams back towards us."

At the final whistle, the four amigos embraced, Warne, assistant boss Riche Barker and coaches Matt Hamshaw and Mike Pollitt locked in triumphant solidarity.

Fans who had answered the 81st-minute call stood in acclaim and now Warne's arms were raised again.

This time in victory salute.

Rotherham (4-1-4-1): Marek Rodak; Billy Jones, Michael Ihiekwe, Clark Robertson, Joe Mattock; Semi Ajayi; Jon Taylor, Will Vaulks, Richie Towell, Anthony Forde; Michael Smith. Unused: Lewis Price, Richard Wood, Joe Newell, Jerry Yates.

Subs: Ryan Williams (for Forde, H-T), Ben Wiles (for Towell, 53), Matt Crooks (for Taylor, 79).

Blackburn (4-2-3-1): David Raya; Ryan Nyambe, Charlie Mulgrew, Jack Rodwell, Amari'i Bell; Richie Smallwood, Lewis Travis; Elliott Bennett, Bradley Dack, Adam Armstrong; Danny Graham. Unused: Jayson Leutwiler, Harrison Reed, Ben Brereton, Corry Evans, Craig Conway.

Subs: Joe Rothwell (for Smallwood, H-T), Joe Nuttall (for Armstrong, 79), Harrison Reed (for Bennett, 90+3).

Goals: Ajayi 2, 83, Wiliams 57 (Rotherham); Bell 51, Mulgrew pen 90+3 (Blackburn).

Referee: John Brooks (Leicestershire).

Attendance: 9,663 (1,400).