Rotherham United: Now for the play-offs after the party of New York ... Millers 1 Blackpool 0
The boss was dressed a little like an undertaker, but this was a Rotherham United party, not a wake.
Manager Paul Warne donned black trousers and tie as his play-off side rounded off their regular League One campaign with a 1-0 win over in-form Blackpool.
As summer arrived early, virtually everyone else was in red and white. Millers shirts and bare arms were everywhere.
The sun beat down on AESSEAL New York Stadium in much the same way as Warne’s influence has shone on the Millers this season.
Rotherham secured fourth spot by beating the Seasiders. The home crowd were up for a celebration and Will Vaulks duly sparked it with a 58th-minute strike. Songs were sung players were lauded and achievement enjoyed as spectators rose in short-sleeved acclaim.
Every party needs alcohol and Warne bounced in for his after-match Press conference holding on to a bottle of Italian lager.
“To be fair, if I had one of them at home it would taste awful,” he grinned. “It’s become habitual that we (the staff) have a beer when we come off. When we’ve won, the first two tastes of that is like liquid gold. If we lose, I don’t bother.”
It’s a mark of the transformation he has wrought in his first full season in charge that there haven’t been too many dry days at New York. Relegation last term, play-offs this year.
This was the last match before his side embark on their end-of-season push for promotion to the Championship. Scunthorpe United, at Glanford Park, are up first next Saturday, followed by the return leg and one of those New York nights under the lights the following Wednesday.
It was no classic, but who cared? Saturday wasn’t about one match. It was about the 45 that had gone before and the three hopefully to follow.
The Millers were on top in the first half but contrived to send virtually every effort off target, with Michael Smith, twice, Joe Mattock, Ryan Williams and Vaulks the main offenders.
Seven-goal Vaulks popped the cork just before the hour mark, rifling the ball home from the edge of the area with his left foot after Williams had headed back Jon Taylor’s deep cross into the midfielder’s path. Party time.
As the game opened up, both teams had chances to score. Callum Cook fired over and Nathan Delfouneso spurned an easy opportunity for the visitors, Vaulks brought the best out of Seasiders goalkeeper Christoffer Mafoumbi, home substitute Caolan Lavery was inches away, Marek Rodak pulled off an unbelievable save to keep out Kelvin Mellor’s header and, in time added on, Dan Agyei curled a shot just wide.
“The heat took a bit out of it for both teams,” Warne said. “I thought we were good in the first half without creating too many clear-cut chances. I thought we had a bit of joy with Willo (Williams) down one side.
“In the second half, I made my substitutions pretty early to save players and freshen up. I thought Marek was outstanding. In fairness, he is paid to keep the ball out of the net.
“On another day, Blackpool might have scored. They’re a good side. They’d won four and drawn one out of five and battered (third-placed) Shrewsbury last week. I think if we had got a second goal we might have been a bit calmer. At 1-0, Blackpool were throwing everything at it.”
Warne was rounding off his weekend by playing in the Tickhill Cricket Club fathers and sons match.
“If the ball is on line and full length, I’m out. Nailed on, I am out, Mate,” he said. “But anything that is not on the wicket, I am slogging. I’m a good slogger.
“I could hit 30 or 40 tomorrow in 10 deliveries and think I’ve got it. But anything on line and length, the bat is under the arm and I’m walking back in. My son has the same skill set as me. Hit big, miss big.”
The manager played a straight bat to questions about the Scunthorpe test: Good side, lady luck, footballing gods.
Whatever happens in the play-offs, this has been a momentous season, an amazing turnaround. To put it another way, the Millers have hit big.
The Rotherham repair job is almost complete. Many supporters stayed behind for the squad’s lap of appreciation, abiding to a man with the club’s request to stay off the pitch.
“The fans were excellent,” Warne said. “Maybe it was because the weather was good but there seemed to be more Rotherham shirts here than I’ve ever seen. The sad thing is, my kids are now too old to want to come on to the pitch with me. I looked at my daughter and she was just shaking her head.
“I can say with all sincerity that everyone who stayed behind seemed to be clapping and were really engaged with the team, and the team were really engaged with them.”
There was a tangible feeling of togetherness.
Richard Wood had pictures taken with his two sons, both sporting super-sharp David Ball haircuts. Ball was nearby with his own youngsters. Most revealingly of all, Jamie Proctor, out since August after cruciate surgery and missing the play-offs, wandered round happily with a new-born hardly the size of a shinpad in his arms.
He didn’t have to be there. But he was.
Even opposing manager Gary Bowyer caught the party mood. The Blackpool boss can come across as dour, but, as he left, he interrupted reporters’ questioning of Warne.
“He’s more important than you fellas,” he told the media throng before turning to his rival and offering a warm handshake. “All the very best. Make sure you win it.”