Why Norwich City 3 Rotherham United 1 was more than just a football match to Paul Warne

By Paul Davis | 02/12/2018

Why Norwich City 3 Rotherham United 1 was more than just a football match to Paul Warne
Norwich v Millers match action

The throng of photographers jostling for position on the touchline before kick-off gave the game away.


This wasn't any old fixture. This was Norfolk-born Paul Warne's first return to his old stamping ground as manager of Rotherham United.


The Norwich-City-supporting Warne clan were out in force at Carrow Road, as were the camera pack, all training their lenses on the tunnel to commemorate the moment the man of the hour stepped into the arena he's embraced since setting eyes on the vivid green turf as a child.


“I didn’t come here to lose, that’s for sure, but it meant a lot to me to manage here," the Millers boss said. "It was a surreal moment when I walked out."


Quickly, it was down to business. Rotherham had a seven-match unbeaten run to protect against the team topping the Championship and for nearly an hour they dared to dream.


They led 1-0 until the 55th minute when two injuries and the class of the Canaries finally saw them buckle, lose 3-1 and slip a place to 20th in the table.

Clark Robertson


Many of the Warnes were red and white for the day, taking their seats among the away fans who revelled in Richie Towell's early opener and their side being the better team in the first half.


But it was the Warne who wasn't there who made the afternoon so emotional.


Warne's father, Russell, suffering from a life-threatening illness and on an oxygen supply, was watching from home on an internet feed, too ill to attend. 


THE GAME


Sometimes, you look forward to a big family reunion and then it doesn't go quite according to plan.


There were even raised voices and a couple of wagging fingers as the Warnes came together.


But this was a spat among Millers players after a needless mix-up between Ryan Williams and Semi Ajayi had gifted Norwich their third and killer goal in the 84th minute.

Paul Warne


Williams passed inside to Ajayi when he should have gone down the line and Ajayi lost possession. Canaries top scorer Teemu Pukki didn't need to be asked twice to apply the finish and Warne didn't need a second invitation to describe the defending as "a calamity".


It undid the good Rotherham work which had gone before, particularly in the opening 45 minutes when the visitors defended solidly, attacked brazenly and goalkeeper Marek Rodak didn't have a save to make.


"For the majority of the game, I was pretty pleased with what I saw," Warne said. "Unfortunately, in the crucial moments today we let ourselves down. 


"Losing does take the edge of the weekend. At least I’ve got the happiness of the first-half performance when the lads showed what they could do. 

Joe Newell


"At 2-1 down with 15 minutes to go, I thought we might get something. Then we gifted them that third goal, which is difficult for me to swallow. 


"I’m going to see my father on Sunday. Life’s too short, so I’m going to let this game go pretty quick."


Towell pounced in the 11th minute after Will Vaulks' shot from a short-corner routine had been parried by Tim Krul and nine minutes later Williams caught the matchball, sponsored by Toilets Plus, flush from 20 yards out and smacked the post.


The Millers lost Joe Newell and Clark Robertson to injury. Both had been playing well and the game turned after they'd been forced off.


"The two subs did kill us, but that isn’t an excuse," Warne said. "They’re part of the game and you have to deal with that."


Norwich had Zimmermann and Stiepermann in their ranks, but the real superheroes were their two young full-backs, Jamal Lewis and Max Aarons, who bombed up and down the flanks and were the major reasons why the Millers were overwhelmed in the second half.


Todd Cantwell steered home Pukki's pull-back in the 55th minute, sub Jon Taylor lost Aarons on 72 minutes, allowing the right-back to run on and head in Cantwell's lofted ball, Pukki ended the contest and only good saves from Rodak in the dying stages from Pukki and Tom Trybull kept the scoreline down.


"At 2-1, we're still in it, which is why the third goal is such a huge turning point," Warne said. "We've gifted them the third goal, which is hugely frustrating and a bit embarrassing.


"That was game over. The lads were arguing on the pitch about the goal and I think they lost their concentration.

The debate rages over the third Norwich goal


"I take some pride from the first-half performance but I’m frustrated by the display in the second half. We hadn’t come here just to tickle Norwich’s belly and say: 'Hey, you’re top of the league, you can have the points.'"


THE OCCASION


Having been close to tears in the build-up to the match, Warne held himself together after it. But few, if any, Millers contests will ever mean more to him than this one.


“My mum and dad were following the game at home in North Walsham," he said. "It is probably the last time my dad sees me here managing at Carrow Road. 


"I know when he passes, whenever that is, he will pass a very proud man."


The cameras left the boss alone at the final whistle, failing to capture the day's most poignant picture.


With handshakes completed, as the yellow-and-green celebrations went on around him, Warne walked out on to the pitch and stood there, hands in pocket, lost in contemplation: family, his dad, defeat, disappointment. Mainly his dad, I suspect.


Fleetingly, he looked vulnerable, a little lost, a little alone, in the stadium where his father had once taken him to his first game.


Norwich (4-2-3-1): Tim Krul; Max Aarons, Christoph Zimmerman, Timm Klose, Jamal Lewis; Alex Tettey, Mario Vrancic; Emi Buendia, Marco Stiepermann, Todd Cantwell; Teemu Pukki. Subs not used: Michael McGovern, Ben Marshall, Felix Passlack, Dennis Srbeny.
Subs: Jordan Rhodes (for Lewis, 87 minutes), Tom Trybull (for Vrancic, 89), Ben Godfrey (for Pukki, 90+2).
 

Rotherham (4-4-1-1): Marek Rodak; Zak Vyner, Semi Ajayi, Clark Robertson, Joe Mattock; Anthony Forde, Will Vaulks, Richie Towell, Joe Newell; Ryan Williams; Michael Smith. Subs not used: Lewis Price, Billy Jones, Ben Wiles, Ryan Manning.
Subs: Jon Tayor (for Newell, 42), Richard Wood (for Robertson, H-T), Jamie Proctor (for Forde, 72).


Goals: Cantwell 55, Aarons 72, Pukki 84 (Norwich); Towell 11 (Rotherham).


Referee: Stephen Martin (Staffordshire).


Attendance: 25,858.


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