Rotherham United: Class tells, but should Paul Warne's side have had a penalty? Newcastle United 4 Millers 0
The tactical maestro stood in his technical area watching his plan work to perfection at one of the great citadels of English football.
Not Rafa Benitez, Newcastle United leader, former Liverpool FC and Chelsea manager, ex-Champions League king.
This master was bobbled-hatted, unshaven and proving yet again he knows how to make the most of limited resources in his reign as caretaker manager of Rotherham United.
For more than 45 minutes, in front of an away following of more than 3,000, in front of a St James Park crowd exceeding 50,000, Paul Warne got everything right against the Championship’s best club.
The expensively-assembled Magpies, looking for the victory which would take them back to the top of the table, had been thwarted and frustrated by the division’s bottom side.
Jonjo Shelvey, their international-class puller of strings, had been rendered almost ineffective by Warne’s clever strategy.
The Millers, down on numbers because of injuries and a raft of January transfer window departures, had had the best chance of the half.
Then, with just seconds of the opening period remaining, Newcastle scored.
And everything changed.
Flashpoint, 38 minutes.
Home goalkeeper Karl Darlow came sliding out towards the edge of his area to collect Jon Taylor’s overhit pass, spilled it, dragged back Anthony Forde with a despairing hand and then recovered magnificently to race back across goal and keep out Jerry Yates’ goalbound shot with one of the saves of the season.
It was penalty. It was a possible red card. Neither were given.
Despair, 45+2 minutes.
Forde lost Deandre Yedlin down the Millers’ left flank and the Toon full-back latched on to Shelvey’s raking free-kick to set up Daryl Murphy to turn and shoot home.
“We limited them to very few chances in the first half,” said Warne. “I thought the way we set up was working a treat. We went to toe to toe with them. My conversation at half-time was a lot different to the one I wanted to have. The goal was a psychological hit for the lads.”
The last thing Rotherham could afford was to concede a second early in the second half, but debutant goalkeeper Richard O’Donnell was picking the ball out of his net four minutes after the restart when he pushed Yoan Gouffran’s shot into the path of the lurking Matt Ritchie.
Now, the game ... well, it just got howay.
The Millers didn’t cave in, and substitute Danny Ward and Forde missed good opportunites, but at times they were overwhelmed. The marauding Yedlin set up Ayoze Perez for a 59th-minute third goal which should have been ruled out for use of an arm and Richie was played in by Shelvey in the 77th minute for his second.
“They have got class and quality all over the pitch,” Warne acknowledged. “They will be a Premier League club again next season.
“They have got pace everywhere. You can only run as hard as you can, and at times the gulf was evident.
“I thought it was a penalty, but Fordey is honest and didn’t go down. Yates has done well and the keeper has made a worldie. It was a double whammy as they have gone up the other end and scored.
“It was a massive swing in the game. They could have been 1-0 down with 10 men but they were 1-0 up at home in front of all their fans.”
When you’re nine points adrift of safety and the odds are stacked against you, you grasp at moments like that the way Darlow grasped at Forde.
But earlier in the game Newcastle might well have been awarded a spot-kick of their own when Aimen Belaid handled in his own box.
VAULKS V SHELVEY
‘Hello, my name’s Will and I’ll be your marker for the day.’
Will Vaulks barely left Shelvey’s side. Newcastle’s playmaker can be as short on fuse as he is on hair, and the Millers midfield man had obviously been designated to rattle his cage as well as stop him playing.
Vaulks, touch-tight and dishing out the verbals, performed his role admirably, particularly before the interval.
Rumour has it that when Shelvey headed back to the dressing room at half-time he found Vaulks sat next to him passing him his orange.
There were 3,229 reasons why Rotherham could feel proud on Tyneside.
High up in the St James’ sky, with their air-sickness pills and binoculars, the sold-out Millers contingent won the admiration of a notoriously-passionate home crowd with their own ardent support.
Two divisions could separate the teams next season, and this was maybe a final opportunity for a Championship away-day party.
“We brought a good following. I hope they aren’t embarrassed about the scoreline,” said Warne who had stood alone on the pitch applauding them, long and hard, before kick-off.
“The lads put a lot of effort in, and you can’t ask for any more than that.”
With that, he was off to sample Benitez’s hospitality.
“I wouldn’t mind some of his Spanish red,” he said, pausing as he considered the businesss he wants to do between now and the close of the window in just over a week.
“I wouldn’t mind some of his players either.”