Rotherham United verdict and reaction: Millers 0 Birmingham 0
Neil Warnock, enraged by another poor refereeing decision, ripped off his protection against the weather and hurled it back towards the Rotherham United dugout in disgust.
Chairman Tony Stewart likes to see passion in a manager and here against Birmingham City he was getting it from the new boss, fresh out of retirement and appointed only the day before the game.
Warnock’s team, on an afternoon of incompetent officialdom affecting both sides, had just been reduced to nine men in time added on as left-back Joe Mattock, like centre-half Richard Wood 12 minutes earlier, had walked for a second yellow card.
The Millers, giving everything throughout the match for their new leader, gamely hung on for a 0-0 draw.
At the final whistle, Warnock, so genial and charming in his press conference 24 hours earlier, was on the pitch, snarling in the referee’s face, telling Northumberland’s Richard Clark exactly what he thought of his performance.
Then he stayed out on the AESSEAL New York Stadium turf to individually thank every Rotherham player for their efforts with embraces which were eagerly received and returned.
We might see a lot more of both in the next 15 matches as the 67-year-old bids to add to a career of remarkable achievement by keeping the third-bottom Millers in the Championship.
Warnock’s a canny operator and knows how to get the most from his teams. He makes players want to to play for him, and that was evident against Gary Rowett’s play-off-chasing side as Rotherham put in a real shift and were well worthy of their point.
“It’s nice to be back in South Yorkshire,” he quipped on his return to the county where he spent eight years managing Sheffield United and falling out with officials, before turning his attention to how well his Rotherham charges had responded to his arrival.
“I thought they did ever so well. I thought they were excellent. We had the better chances and on another day we could have taken the points, but it wasn’t to be.
“In the situation we are in, we just have to make sure we get 100 per cent out of the players. That’s what they gave. I was quite proud of the lads.”
Warnock had gone with the 4-4-2 formation fans have been calling for and Rotherham, vibrant and full of energy, had the best of the first half. Paul Green just failed to connect in front of an open net with Kirk Broadfoot’s header back across from a corner after half an hour and, a minute later, Matt Derbyshire brought a fine near-post save from Tomasz Kuszczak as Danny Ward’s header sent him clear.
After the break, only a terrific 60th-minute block by City’s Paul Robinson denied Derbyshire before Kuszczak kept out Danny Ward’s follow-up effort while Ward later directed a free header the wrong side of the post.
But Birmingham offered more attacking threat this half and, after Robinson missed with a header, Jacques Maghoma raced through in the 75th minute and looked certain to score until Lee Camp came out, got his angles exactly right and held on to the shot.
Rowett was happy to take a draw. “It was a tough game. Rotherham defended manfully,” he said. “In the sense that we have not done enough to win the game in the final third, it was a fair result.”
Out of the company of referees, no-one seems more relaxed about Rotherham’s predicament than Warnock, relishing being back in the game and, after years of promotion campaigns and a couple of unlikely rescue missions, a calming, authoratative figure at ease with the pressure.
“We just have to worry about ourselves,” he said. “We have to win games we are not expected to. It’ll be good to see what these lads can do.”
He encouraged and cajoled on the touchline, then that famed alter ego would suddenly take over when the officials erred. “Lino, Lino,” he screamed at the referee’s assistant in the second half, before making glasses signs with fingers and thumbs and manically holding them to his eyes.
The red cards ... You had to feel for Woody. He’s waited nearly two years for a proper chance in a Rotherham shirt and was a rock at the heart of the defence until, in the 79th minute, already booked for an infringement against Clayton Donaldson, he clattered into the Birmingham striker who theatrically tumbled and stayed down.
It was probably a yellow-card challenge, although the centre-half, devastated after the match, might query the reaction of Donaldson who, not for the first or last time, hit the deck even faster than Warnock’s discarded winter wear.
Mattock also went for a second yellow, Clark cautioning him for time-wasting while he was taking a 91st-minute throw-in. Only when Blues players pointed out that the defender was already in the book for a first-half challenge did the hapless official reach for a red.
“I felt sorry for the ref at the end because he didn’t realise Joe had already got a yellow,” Warnock said.
“When he did, he realised he had to send him off and he ended up looking a bit foolish.
“Refereeing ... that’s the one thing I haven’t missed because nothing has changed, has it!”
Warnock, given a standing ovation before kick-off, and assistant Kevin Blackwell had put the squad through a gruelling two-and-a-half-hour session on Friday to hammer home their way of playing and the change was clear.
The ball will go forward quicker than it did during previous boss Neil Redfearn’s reign and be delivered into the box earlier.
The match also saw Greg Halford back in first-team action for the first time since the trip to Brighton on September 15.
Dropped by Steve Evans and then unwanted by Redfearn, Halford, who has criticised his treatment by the club on social media, did more good things in his 17-minute cameo than in his previous eight Millers appearances combined.
Pressed into action in central defence after the first red card, he won important headers, cleared his lines, passed the ball shrewdly and stuck to his task to make a big tackle on the edge of his own area and come away with the ball.
The top-knot hairstyle has gone and so, it seems, has the attitude.
He even used Twitter in a positive way on Saturday night, thanking Millers fans who had contacted him with complimentary comments about his display. #freshstart.
When his overhead kick hung in the air in the 90th minute before landing on the roof of the net, it looked for one tantalising second that the dream return could be on.
This was a good, hard-earned point, yet results elsewhere didn’t favour the home side who remain in the drop zone.
With Warnock giving such a lift to the mood of the camp and the players full of positive intent, it seems almost churlish to mention it but, on a day when 16 games became 15 and 11 players became nine, the gap to safety has grown to five.
“The lads fought to the end. I have nothing but praise for them,” the manager said as he spoke in the New York media suite for the first time.
“They can only do what they did. We need more points.”
By now the garment he had earlier forsaken in fury had been picked up, dusted down and made ready to go again.
Much like job the Millers have hired him to do on them.
Rotherham United (4-4-2): Camp7; Richardson 8, Broadfoot 7, Wood 8, Mattock 6; Burke 6 (G Ward 78), Green 7, Smallwood 6, Newell 5 (Halford 78); Derbyshire 6 (Clarke-Harris 64, 6), D Ward 8. Subs not used: Cairns, Buxton, Collins, Yates.
Birmingham City (4-4-1-1): Kuszczak 7; Shotton 7, Morrison 7, Robinson 8, Grounds 6; Buckley 5 (Cotterill 84), Kieftenbeld 6, Gleeson 6, Maghoma 6 (Solomon-Otabor 78); Toral 7 (Fabbrini 82); Donaldson 6. Subs not used: Legzdins, Spector, Davis, Caddis.
Referee: Richard Clark (Northumberland).
Attendance: 11,018 (2,614).