Rotherham United: Kieffer's red, Michael's mess and Warne's anger ... Bristol Rovers 2 Millers 1
Kieffer Moore with his arms raised has become a thrilling, familiar sight for Rotherham United followers this season.
Thirteen times since August the loan hitman has had reason to celebrate as his exploits in front of goal have made him the Football League’s most prolific marksman.
But here, on a dark, dank, dispiriting day for the Millers at the Memorial Stadium, his hands were up for another reason.
After his side had thrown away a one-goal lead, the 6ft 5in striker allowed his frustration to get the better for him when he was inches from connecting with Joe Newell’s 79th-minute cross to make the score 2-2.
He and opponent Lee Brown tangled, The attacker’s fist flashed into the defender’s face. Down went Brown. Straight red. No more of Moore.
“My view of the incident wasn’t that great, but I’ve seen it back so I can see he’s definitely slapped the lad in the face,” manager Paul Warne said. “I’m hugely disappointed.
“I appreciate that Kieffer usually gets more physical contact than any other player in the league probably, because of his size and strength. He doesn’t much benefit off the refs.
“He’s obviously lost his temper. He’s a big player to lose and we’ll definitely miss him.”
The three-match ban the 25-year-old will now serve added to the grim stats building up for Warne and his team who went down to rivals who had lost their previous six fixtures.
It’s seven League One matches without a win for Rotherham, three successive defeats and a drop from fourth place to 13th since mid-October.
Moore won’t be available until Boxing Day, leaving him with just two more outings in a Millers shirt before parent club Ipswich Town recall him in the January transfer window.
In his absence, the Millers must find a way to stop a slide from the play-off places to mid-table becoming a spiral towards the danger end of the table.
OH HECK, IHIEKWE
The Millers have shown they can score against anyone. Unfortunately, they concede against anyone as well.
They were leading 1-0 through Ryan Williams’ clinical 56th-minute strike and should have seen out a scrappy contest against a side short on confidence and feeling the pressure from their own fans.
But they had held their advantage for only eight minutes when centre-half Michael Ihiekwe - badly at fault for a Wigan Athletic goal a week earlier - tried to shepherd the ball out of play only to see Ellis Harrison nip round him and poke the ball home.
“One error cost the whole team,” Warne lamented. “That’s how I see it. It might be harsh, but that’s the truth. I need my defenders to realise that defending is an art and being ugly at times is also an art. We shouldn’t let them in the way we did like that.
“The conditons weren’t conducive to good football. I said to the lads at half-time: ‘It’s just not one of those days where you can play. It’s a day for ugly defending. Just clear everything. Get the ball up the pitch and make them defend.’”
An old classic by The Smiths had blared out before a game in which Warne shuffled his central defenders yet again, this time dropping Richard Wood and pairing Ihiekwe with Semi Ajayi.
The boss has tried variations of all three in a seven-match league sequence which has seen his defence breached 17 times.
Whoever he chooses, as Morrissey and co might ask: ‘What Difference Does it Make?’
Rotherham, after two first-half let-offs as Billy Bodin and Liam Sercombe put simple headers wide, wrested control when Newell’s cross-field pass found Williams who initially miscontrolled the ball yet still found time for a sweet, low shot.
But Ihiekwe’s dithering allowed Rovers back into the match, and the home side went ahead four minutes before Moore’s madness. Harrison’s overhead hook into the box found Sercombe without a marker and he slipped the ball past Marek Rodak.
The Millers misery was compounded when it emerged that goalkeeper Rodak had called on Ihiekwe to clear the ball in the build-up to Rovers’ first goal.
“Marek does well and punches the ball well out of the box from a corner,” Warne said. “It gets lifted back in. MIchael’s shielding the ball out for a goal-kick for some reason. Marek’s told him to put it away but he decides not to. The lad comes in and scores and that completely flips the game.”
The manager was angry at Moore and his mood didn’t improve when Ihiekwe had a clear chance for an equaliser from Newell’s cross in the 89th minute but messed up his header.
Worrying times as Kieffer saw red and Warne, in a different way, saw even redder.