The derby, the class of fans, the 74th minute and Will Vaulks' red card ... the story of Sheffield United 2 Rotherham United 0

By Paul Davis | 10/03/2019

The derby, the class of fans, the 74th minute and Will Vaulks' red card ... the story of Sheffield United 2 Rotherham United 0
Millers boss Paul Warne and Blades manager Chris Wilder

THE moment that mattered in footballing terms came in the 27th minute. The one that mattered in real life arrived in the 74th.

With 16 minutes of the South Yorkshire derby remaining, all four sides of Bramall Lane rose in applause of Joan Stewart, the wife of Rotherham United chairman Tony Stewart, who had passed away earlier in the week.

Millers fans, Sheffield United fans, the Millers bench, the Blades bench, they all played their wonderful, moving part.

Joan had died aged 74. Her husband was at the Lane to appreciate the tribute. Driving rain and black Rotherham armbands added to the sobriety of the occasion.

"Yorkshire is full of good football people," said Millers boss Paul Warne. "It is a hotpot of football and excitement. But the people, to their credit, know that some things are more important."

Suddenly, Will Vaulks' first-half sending-off didn't seem quite such a talking point.

THE MATCH

The need for points was intense. Rotherham are in the thick of a Championship survival battle while the Blades, who haven't conceded a league goal at the Lane since Boxing Day, are pushing for automatic promotion.

The visitors, travelling to S2 unbeaten in their previous six outings, couldn't afford to concede early but were behind after five minutes when Jack O'Connell received Ollie Norwood's low corner and swept the ball into the net.

Rotherham rallied and were enjoying their best spell of the game when Vaulks misplaced his 27th-minute pass and raced to make amends.

He flew through the air on the halfway line in an attempt to block the ball and an instant later George Baldock flew much higher, his momentum having taken him into the Rotherham man's outstretched leg.

"Will is an honest kid. He went for the ball. From where I was stood, he didn't touch their player," his manager said.

"Strong yellow," thought Warne, but nobody was strongly arguing against the colour of the card being red.

Will Vaulks sees red

Skipper Vaulks, gutted and disbelieving, trooped off, taking the Millers' chances with him.

"It was disappointing to concede from a set-piece," Warne said. "They blocked our man in the box. That gets seen some weeks and not others. It was a good finish. 

"I thought that took the handbrake off our lads and from there they really started to get into the game. We were a threat. Tayls (Jon Taylor) was giving them all kinds of problems down our right wing. I thought our play deserved a goal. 

"The sending-off has a massive impact. We need 11 players here, not ten. To go down to ten with nearly 70 minutes to go was a huge setback.

"It's unfortunate for us because Will has been amazing. I said to the lads at half-time, he has dug us out of many a hole this year so let's see if we can dig him out of one. But it wasn't to be."

Manful defending and the form of goalkeeper Marek Rodak kept the Blades at bay after the break until Mark Duffy picked his spot from 20 yards seconds before the stadium stood as one in recognition of the Stewart family's loss.

"Everyone was clapping, including all the coaching staff and subs," Warne said. "That was very respectful.

"As far as derbies go, this is a friendly derby. After the game, we wished their management team all the best in their promotion push and they wished us all the best in our own fight.

"We looked at the second half as a '30-15' game. We thought if we could keep it at one goal in 30 minutes then in the last 15 we could throw Semi (Ajayi) up front and have a right go. 

Ben Wiles in derby action

“The lads worked really hard and tried to frustrate Sheffield United. I was proud of how they played. I know Rotherham fans want to see us attack and score but we could have ended up 3-0, 4-0 or 5-0 down. Sheffield United have beaten teams with 11 men by those scores here this season. 

"I didn't want to get to the end of the season and have our fate hinge on a goal difference of two more goals or something."

THE RED CARD

Vaulks is a competitor. Giving it and taking it, he knows how to leave a foot in but only in a way that is in the accepted spirit of unflinching conflict. There is no malice in him. 

Whatever the debate surrounding intent and being out of control in the tackle, he was going wholeheartedly to stop the breakaway, not break the man.

His body angle as he dived in was taking him away from Baldock until the Blades wing-back cut inside.

Still, the challenge looked rash, invited the referee to send him off and the 25-year-old skipper apologised on social media for the first dismissal of his career.

Baldock was undamaged and it remains to be seen whether the same can be said about third-from-bottom Rotherham's safety hopes as they lose their talisman to a ban until April and could also be without hamstring victim Clark Robertson.

Results elsewhere on Saturday mean the scrap to stay in the division involves six clubs and remains as intense as ever.

"We will miss Will for three important games," Warne said. "But you live off your squad, you don't live off your 11."

This day, this one particular afternoon, however, wasn't about Vaulks or any other player.

Stewart, in 11 years at the helm, has seen momentous ups and downs since he rescued the Millers from potential oblivion, built a stadium and revived a town. 

But maybe no memory will stay with him like the one of the 74th minute when rivalries were put to one side, when decency came to the fore, when a derby was united in humanity.

Class from both clubs.

Rest in peace Joan Stewart.

Sheffield (3-4-1-2): Dean Henderson; Chris Basham, John Egan, Jack O'Connell; George Baldock, Ollie Norwood, John Fleck, Enda Stevens; Mark Duffy; David McGoldrick, Scott Hogan. Unused: Simon Moore, Richard Stearman, Paul Coutts, Kieran Dowell, Billy Sharp.
Subs: Gary Madine (for Basham, 65), Martin Cranie (for McGoldrick, 84).

Rotherham (4-1-4-1): Marek Rodak; Billy Jones, Michael Ihiekwe, Clark Robertson, Joe Mattock; Semi Ajayi; Jon Taylor, Will Vaulks, Ben Wiles, Joe Newell; Michael Smith. Unused: Lewis Price, Richard Wood, Richie Towell, Jerry Yates.
Subs: Anthony Forde (for Taylor, 69), Ryan Williams (for Newell, 69), Matt Crooks (for Jones, 82).

Goals: O'Connell 5, Duffy 74 (Sheffield).

Referee: Geoff Eltringham (County Durham).

Attendance: 27,402 (2,243).


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