Rotherham: Oh no, Odemwingie as Ball wastes big chance: Millers 1 Leeds United 2
It was shocking, it cost Rotherham United any chance of a result, the New York Stadium crowd could barely believe what they'd just seen.
Peter Odemwingie’s red-card offence, you’re thinking.
No, Dominic Ball’s 89th-minute miss when he spurned a glorious chance to earn the Millers an against-all-odds point, although Odemwingie’s loss of head also qualifies on all three counts.
Down to 10 men, two goals behind and having lost two key men to injury before the break, the Championship’s last-placed side had rallied in the second half and forced their way back into the match with Richard Wood’s header four minutes from time.
Pandemonium ensued in the Leeds United penalty area three minutes later as Rotherham twice went close in a mad goalmouth scrabble before the ball fell invitingly to Ball a couple of yards out at the far post.
He shot and surely had to score.
“I thought it was in. There seemed to be a few bites at the cherry,” new boss Kenny Jackett, now five games into his reign, admitted.
“At the end, it has sat up for Ball. It was on his right foot as well.”
In the moments afterwards, the visitors’ box resembled a war zone. Red and white bodies lay, agonised and uncomprehending, on the New York turf. Stephen Kelly staggered away, head in his hands.
Ball over. Game over.
Odemwingie has previous for doing a crazy thing. He is the player, remember, who drove to QPR in full view of the Sky cameras to try to force through a deadline-day transfer from West Brom in 2013.
That moment of madness was more than matched here, with Sky in an attendance again as they televised Saturday’s evening kick-off.
Twenty-nine minutes had gone, by which time the Millers were already trailing to Chris Wood’s opener, when Odemwingie, signed as a free agent last month, led with an elbow which made full contact with the head of Liam Cooper in full view of referee Stuart Attwell.
Attwell made many mistakes throughout the game, but brandishing a straight red card wasn’t one of them.
Before the game had ended, while his teammates were launching their valiant fightback, the winger was on social media defending himself.
“I was unlucky with the red card,” he tweeted. “We all normally jump with our hands up to protect each other and I expected his to be up as well.”
“I didn’t mean to but caught the player and accept the referee had no choice,” said tweet No 2. “Hope the boys get something out of the game. Ups and downs.”
Jackett waited until the match was over before delivering his verdict.
“Peter has put his arm up to protect himself. I can see why the referee has done it,” he said. “I don’t think we can have any complaints if he has seen it that way.
“Peter is not an over-aggressive person or malicious, but he has put his arm up to protect himself. It looks how it looks, I understand the referee’s point of view.”
There is nothing in Odemwingie’s past to suggest an over-aggressive or malicious player. However, this incident, on his first home start, appeared to be both, and there will be a high price for the Millers to pay
Still 11 points adrift of safety, without a win in 14 games and with the worst defensive record in the Football League, they will now lose him to a ban for their next three matches, against Burton Albion, QPR and Fulham.
The frantic hand repeatedly hitting the turf to signal alarm summed up a dire first half for Rotherham when everything that could go wrong did go wrong.
Greg Halford, picked as the holding midfielder in a 4-1-4-1 formation, was down in the opening seconds and his body language made it plain that this was a serious one.
A weak Izzy Brown pass had played him into trouble, he was clattered by Kalvin Phillips and played no further part in proceedings as he headed to hospital for X-rays on his damaged ankle.
On 14 minutes, right-back Kelly’s refusal to show Charlie Taylor the outside opened up acres of space on the inside for the Leeds man to cross low from the left and it was all too simple for Chris Wood to slot home a first-time shot.
Six minutes after elbow room had been cleared in the home dugout for Odemwingie, goalkeeper Lee Camp was the next Miller to depart, a knee knock caused by an earlier dubious challenge from Hadi Sacko ending his evening.
Lewis Price replaced him and did little wrong, but was picking the ball out of the net in the final few seconds of seven minutes of time added on at the end of the half when Souleymane Doukara screwed a shot past his outstretched left hand.
On a busy night for Twitter, Halford later revealed there was no break and, despite incriminating TV stills of the tackle, absolved Phillips of any blame.
Light by a man and weighed down by their bottom-club predicament, Jackett’s men could so easily have folded.
They had trailed by two goals at the break against Derby County a week earlier and gone on to lose 3-0, but this response, full of effort and character, was a far cry from the limp acceptance of defeat at the iPro.
Gary Monk’s play-off-chasing side failed to make their numerical advantage count and by the last 10 minutes were under the kind of pressure no-one had invisioned during the half-time interval.
Centre-half Richard Wood did wonderfully well to put so much power on an 86th-minute header that Robert Green’s best efforts couldn’t keep it out, and three minutes later the unlikeliest of comebacks looked about to happen.
After Will Vaulks’ shot had been turned for a corner, Anthony Forde’s flag-kick induced panic in the visitors’ defence as first Wood, with two goals in his last three matches, and Kelly were denied before Ball put a defender’s finish on his golden attacking opportunity.
“We have to show that sort of commitment,” said Jackett. “We showed it with 10 men. We need to show it with 11 men from the start of the game and play with that sort of passion.
“We could have gone under, we could have fallen away, and we did at Derby. Today we didn’t, although we did put ourselves in a tough position.
“There was a young group on at the end and they have to show that enthusiasm and willingness in every game. At this club, they will get opportunities.”
Odemwingie, after his raised elbow, was back on Twitter later in the night, this time talking of raised optimism.
“Great effort from the boys,” he posted. “Had the chances to equalise. Proud of them giving us hope for the rest of the season. Second-half performance was top-class.”
The game had turned on two big moments.
Odemwingie should have known better. Ball should have done better.