Pride and tears as Rotherham United run on emotion: Millers 2 Norwich City 1
It was a day of such joy. Yet there were so many tears.
Young striker Jerry Yates, playing the day after the death of his grandfather, jumped into the crowd at the final whistle, then cried freely on the pitch.
Manager Paul Warne, who engineered victory over his home-town club, broke down afterwards when his thoughts turned to his ill, Norwich-supporting dad in hospital.
It was emotional.
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Playing with fire in their bellies and freedom in their feet, bottom club Rotherham, ravished by player departures and injuries, had stunned one of the division’s biggest clubs.
Twenty-year-old Yates, making his first Championship start, scored within seven minutes and went on to run the visitors’ defence ragged.
Without wishing to sound mawkish, his grandad would have been proud.
Everyone was proud of a boy who came through the Millers’ youth ranks and is now taking his first steps as a man.
He’s from Doncaster, but has been a Rotherham fan from the day he signed for the club.
The sponsors made him Man of the Match and supporters gave him their own award.
“He’s one of our own,” they chanted. “He’s one of our own.”
Yates, playing in the absence of transfer target Danny Ward who was out with a back spasm, was up against the centre-half, Timm Klose, who Warne rates as the best in the division and Canaries captain Russell Martin.
He wasn’t supposed to get a kick.
Yet the youngster, with just six previous substitute appearances in the second tier to his name, gave the experienced duo more problems than they could handle.
The power of youth.
“Jerry had no pressure on him and he just played like a good, old-fashioned footballer,” said Warne. “He just ran. Run, run, run, cause problems, get it in, play, play, pass, pass.
“I thought he was outstanding. I’ve had loads of questions about Wardy, but if Jerry plays like that on a regular basis then he’ll cause as much interest.”
Yates was in the right place on seven minutes to turn in a low, right-wing cross from Tom Adeyemi who had been released by Will Vaulks’ lovely dink over the top.
Eleven minutes later, Rotherham’s cause was helped no end when Norwich striker Nelson Oliveira, wound up earlier by home fans after appearing to feign injury, saw red in a penalty-area tussle with Kirk Broadfoot.
He punched the Millers man in the face when they hit the floor and saw red again as referee Geoff Eltringham took action.
Norwich were level five minutes into the second half when Cameron Jerome headed in Wes Hoolahan’s exquisite cross from the right.
But Rotherham had looked dangerous throughout the game and were back in front within five minutes when Joe Mattock’s left-flank delivery matched Hoolahan’s for quality, setting up Adeyemi to bury his header.
Millers hearts swelled as Warne’s men went after the Canaries. Broadfoot’s header was saved by John Ruddy on the line, Yates was inches wide from Adeyemi’s cross, Ruddy denied Anthony Forde and Jon Taylor and Taylor’s header was headed off the line by Martin.
Millers hearts fluttered, but only once, in time added on, when Steven Naismith shot. Lewis Price was equal to it.
Warne revealed: “The Norwich keeper shook my hand at the end and said: ‘They can’t give you anymore than that. You deserved to win.’”
Plain and simple, against opponents tipped to be top-two contenders this year, Rotherham wanted it more.
The Millers have lost games this season and lost players during the transfer window as five have departed and goalkeeper Lee Camp has been ruled out for the season since January opened for business.
Yet, under Warne, that brilliant bloke holding everything together with class, panache and boundless energy and humour, they have rediscovered something. Character.
“I’m low on numbers. Anyone who goes to football games can see that,” said the caretaker manager who has just been given the job until the end of the season. “But the lads have got good hearts. You can’t measure that. They have got a bit of spirit between them and that was enough.”
It brought only a fourth win of the season. But three of those victories have come in Warne’s eight league matches in charge.
The gap to safety has been reduced, although it still stands at an almost-unbridgeable nine points. Shame on those who went before him.
Over a full season, Warne’s record would bring more than 50 points. And survival.
He was back. Richie Smallwood. The unassuming warrior who should never have been allowed to leave.
What a game the midfielder had on his return from his Alan-Stubbs-sanctioned loan spell at Scunthorpe United. A foot in here, a calm pass there. Mr Bits and Pieces. Minimum fuss. Maximum impact.
“The good thing with Rich is that he can ug’ (as in ugly) it up,” said Warne.
“If England play Spain and try to play like Spain, they will lose every single time,” the interim boss went on. “If they play Spain and decide to play Andy Carroll and Peter Crouch up front and ug’ it up, they might beat Spain.
“We haven’t got as good players as Norwich City have. I don’t mean to be harsh on the lads. I’ve said it to their faces, so I can say it here. People like Richie who are prepared to just, literally, leather the ball 80 yards with 10 minutes to go, suit me, because I need the ball out of my half, I need to be playing in their half.”
Smallwood, short on match action, was supposed to play for 60 minutes. He was still there at the final whistle when New York Stadium erupted in acclaim.
Warne, being Warne, after his now-customary lion roar when his team win, high-fived fans before disappearing down the tunnel.
Fittingly, on a day of heroes, the last two players left out on the turf after an epic Rotherham display were Yates and Smallwood.
Supporters had sung it about Jerry. They felt it about Richie.
So glad that, once again, he’s one of their own.