Penalties, fans and the 'F' word ... the story of Rotherham United 1 Middlesbrough 2

By Paul Davis | 06/05/2019

Penalties, fans and the 'F' word ... the story of Rotherham United 1 Middlesbrough 2
Michael Smith scores from the spot

THEY bowed out of the second tier as a Champions League winner settled the contest with the goal of the game.

Farewell to the Championship for Rotherham United, relegated a week earlier and playing their final match of the campaign at home to Middlesbrough.

Boro midfielder John Obi Mikel helped to send them on their way with a stunning strike that would have graced the Allianz Arena when his Chelsea side saw off Bayern Munich in 2012.

Next season it's League One for the Millers. Not match after match against former Premier League sides like the Teessiders. Bring on Accrington Stanley, Burton Albion and Rochdale.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but none of those three have a player with European silverware in their ranks.

The point wasn't lost on manager Paul Warne after a 2-1 defeat where his men fought back from a 2-0 half-time deficit against opponents still harbouring play-off pretentions and came close to forcing an equaliser.

"First half, we played really well until Middlesbrough won a penalty and that sort of shook us a little bit," he said.

"Then the man with the Champions League winner's medal scores one, which was nice!"

It's been an exhausting campaign, one in which Rotherham have never stopped fighting, and you could tell it was a relief for the boss that he could finally begin to catch his breath.

His last press conference after a 46-game titanic struggle was bitter-sweet for him.

Eyes on the ball for Joe Newell

Bitter in that his team had come close to upsetting the odds to stay at this level.

"We've gone down by four points," he said. "If we'd won today and gone down by one point, that would have been even worse.

"The reason why it's so disappointing to go down is that we're not far off being a very good team."

Sweet in that he knows he and his men can look themselves in the eye and that next season in the third tier is more likely to bring the pressures of a promotion push than the stresses of a survival struggle.

His mood was a mixture of sadness and light-heartedness. Talk turned to his home-town club, Norwich City, and how they'd started the season poorly under Daniel Farke but gone on to win promotion.

"Now it's all Farke this, Farke that," he said.

He grinned like a child when he suddenly realised how it sounded.

THE GAME

For once, the Millers didn't lead at the break only to be pegged back in the second half.

After a bright start during which Michael Smith forced a save from Darren Randolph, they found themselves two goals behind before the interval.

They were the better side after the break when 34-year-old midfielder Darren Potter returned after a 17-month injury absence to remind everyone of the value of simple choices and precision passing.

"He's just a good footballer," said Warne. "I thought he was the best player on the pitch when he came on. I'm really pleased for him.

"He was out for a long time and people always write you off as soon as you hit 30 anyway. He trains really hard and has got years left in his legs."

Assombalonga's movement and speed was a Britt special as he peeled away from Clark Robertson in the 28th minute before hitting the deck in a tangle with the centre-half.

There were swearwords sounding much like Warne's Norwich faux pas as home supporters objected to a spot-kick verdict from referee Andy Madley that the Boro striker took full advantage of.

Semi Ajayi heads for goal

"I thought it was a penalty," the Rotherham boss said. "I haven't see it back. I think they're both grabbing each other. From the angle I saw it, I would definitely want a penalty for my side."

Obi Mikel smashed in a 16-yard Champions League shot ten minutes later to render two missed Assombalonga one-on-ones unimportant.

With nothing but their pride on the line, Warne's men showed the spirit that has characterised their year.

Joe Newell closed the opening period with a free-kick that brought a flying fingertip save from Randolph and the Millers surged towards the kop in the second half.

Ajayi came close to reducing the arrears in the 71st minute when only a brilliant Randolph stop kept out his header, the home team's huge, justified shout for a penalty for handball went unheeded by Madley soon after and substitute Kyle Vassell had a clear sight of goal but couldn't find the power to trouble Boro's keeper.

"I just shouted with everyone else for handball," Warne said. "I didn't actually see it. I just go off the players' reaction and their reaction was it was a penalty."

Vassell, looking sharp and dangerous, produced a storming run and thumping shot against the woodwork before being upended by Obi Mikel, leaving Player of the Year Smith to score Rotherham's last second-tier goal from the spot.

"At 2-0, I'm thinking 'I don't want to be embarrassed with a 4-0 or 5-0'," Warne admitted. "No-one deserved that, not the owner, the fans or the team. For us to get a 2-1 and really go for a draw put a right old smile on my face.

"It's testament to the quality of the people in my dressing room that they tried so hard to get something today when the result was irrelevant."

FEUD OF THE FANS

While the real battle was taking place on the pitch, both sets of supporters were squaring up as the giant scoreboard kept flashing up the changing fortunes at Pride Park.

Middlesbrough had to win to stay in top-six contention but a play-off place would be theirs only if Derby County lost or drew at home to West Bromwich Albion.

The lap of appreciation at the end

There was tumult in the away end as West Brom scored a second-half leveller then gloating roars from the home crowd as news of two more Rams goals came through.

"You're going down," Boro followers spat at three sides of AESSEAL New York Stadium, their short-lived delirium dissipating into dismay.

Rotherham fans, mirroring the defiance their team had shown throughout the second half, throughout a memorable campaign, weren't short of a response.

"You're going to win Farke all," they chanted back.

Or something like that.

Rotherham United (4-1-4-1): Lewis Price; Billy Jones, Michael Ihiekwe, Clark Robertson, Joe Mattock; Semi Ajayi; Anthony Forde, Matt Crooks, Ben Wiles, Joe Newell; Michael Smith. Unused: Zak Vyner, Richard Wood, Matt Palmer, Richie Towell.

Subs: Ryan Williams (for Forde, H-T), Darren Potter (for Crooks, 66), Kyle Vassell (for Newell, 76).

Middlesbrough (3-5-1-1): Darren Randolph; Paddy McNair, Aden Flint, Ryan Shotton; Jonny Howson, Lewis Wing, John Obi Mikel, Mo Besic, George Saville; Ashley Fletcher; Britt Assombalonga. Unused: Dimi Konstantopoulos, Jordan Hugill, Rudy Gestede, Djed Spence.

Subs: Stewart Downing (for Fletcher, 76), Adam Clayton (for Besic, 82), Marcus Tavernier (for Wing, 85).

Goals: Assombalonga pen 28, Obi Mikel 38 (Boro); Smith pen 86 (Rotherham).

Referee: Andy Madley (West Yorkshire).

Attendance: 11,051 (2,608).


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