Sheffield Wednesday verdict and reaction: Owls 0 Rotherham United 1
He marched purposefully onto the pitch after the final whistle, congratulating all his players before giving a clenched-fist salute to almost 2,000 Rotherham fans.
By Neil Warnock’s standards, it was quite a restrained celebration.
But the self-confessed United fan and ex-Blades boss lapped up the applause, enjoying every moment on the Hillsborough pitch.
It is for days like Saturday why Warnock answered Rotherham’s SOS call. Beating the Auld Enemy in their backyard made his weekend. And he didn’t even need to bring his crash helmet.
“You don’t overcome your rivals every week, so it is special, because they aren’t a bad side,” admitted Warnock.
Wednesday were made to look a distinctly ordinary side in the first half. It was an insipid showing. Rotherham were good value for their lead.
Shorn of the services of leading scorer Fernando Forestieri, Carlos Carvalhal’s troops lacked energy, aggression and invention.
Warnock said: “They missed Forestieri; I was quite pleased about that. I recommended him to QPR at the start of the season but they didn’t listen.
“So I can’t say I am disappointed that he wasn’t playing but it just reignited the fact that the Football Associagtion has got to change the rules. It’s stupid really.”
It was not just Forestieri who the Owls sorely missed. Sam Hutchinson, rested with tomorrow’s trip to Brighton and Hove Albion in mind, would have definitely relished the physical nature of this South Yorkshire derby. His combative qualities may have given them the edge in the midfield department.
Without Forestieri and Hutchinson, Wednesday struggled to get to grips with Rotherham’s 4-1-4-1 formation. Greg Halford, deployed in the defensive midfield position, was outstanding and Danny Ward excelled in the lone-striker role.
Far too many of the Owls players under-performed. They made a sluggish start, with the Millers’ Grant Ward volleying wide when through on goal in the second minute, and that set the tone.
The Millers belied their lowly league position, harrying and hunting in packs, forcing Wednesday into mistakes high up the pitch.
Defensively the hosts were found wanting in the 21st minute as Matt Derbyshire turned in Lee Frecklington’s low centre. It was simplicity itself.
What will concern Carvalhal is that Rotherham did not have to work hard to find a hole in the Owls’ backline. It was a soft goal to give away.
Over the last fortnight, Wednesday have been on the end of some wrong refereeing decisions. Saturday continued the trend.
The big flashpoint came in the 35th minute when Michael Turner thought he had levelled things up, deflecting in Aiden McGeady’s drive. Referee Chris Kavanagh signalled for a goal.
But Rotherham’s players and coaching staff protested vehemently and Kavanagh, after consulting his linesman, chalked it off for offside.
The officials changed their mind. Wednesday felt hard done by.
TV replays suggest centre-back Turner was level with the last defender. The benefit of doubt should have been given to the attacking side.
No wonder Carvalhal cut a frustrated figure post-match after seeing yet another big officiating call go against them.
“I have seen the image,” said Carvalhal. “It was not offside. Turner was in line with the last defender.
“But I don’t want to talk too much about referees. I love football and I just want to talk about football.
“The last four games I have been talking about things other than the football and I am a coach, I want to get back to talking about the football.”
Warnock accepts Lady Luck may have shined on his team.
“I haven’t seen it back yet but if we have had a bit of luck I think it is well deserved because of the penalty last week against Brentford and the penalty we didn’t get at Reading,” he said. “We haven’t had a lot of luck. I am pleased to have a bit of luck.
Danny Ward, a constant threat for the Millers, inexplicably fired wide when he should have doubled their advantage five minutes before the interval.
Despite dominating a one-sided second period, the Owls couldn’t find a way past Rotherham’s stubborn, well-organised rearguard.
Lucas Joao impressed after coming on as a substitute. His pace and directness unsettled the Millers, but Carvalhal’s men kept fluffing their lines at the business end of the pitch.
Ross Wallace struck the woodwork and saw his dangerous free kick saved by the feet of Lee Camp, but Rotherham’s defence held firm.
Wednesday threw more and more bodies forward, switching to a 3-1-3-3 system late on. They huffed and puffed. They were unable to blow the Millers house down.
The day could not have gone much better for Warnock.
Back to back wins have breathed new life into Rotherham’s survival bid and, at the same time, he seriously dented Wednesday’s hopes of securing a top-six finish.
Defeat extended the Owls’ winless streak to four matches. It took them far too long to get going in front of the biggest league crowd at Hillsborough this term. This is the wrong time to be having a dip in form.
Old foe Warnock reckons the Owls have a great chance of going up IF they end up in the play-off positions. Only one point separates sixth-placed Wednesday and ninth-placed Ipswich Town so that looks a big if right now.
Owls: Westwood 6; Hunt 5 (McGugan 74), Lees 5, Turner 5, Pudil 5; Wallace 6, Lee 5, Bannan 6, McGeady 5 (Joao H-T, 7); Nuhiu 5, Hooper 5. Substitutes: Price, Loovens, Bennett, Matias, Lopez.
MILLERS: Camp 8; Richardson 8, Broadfoot 8, Wood 8, Mattock 8; Halford 9; G Ward 7 (Kelly 90), Smallwood 7, Frecklington 8, Derbyshire 8 (Newell 82); D Ward 9 (Best 90). Substitutes: Kenny, Green, Thomas, Clarke-Harris.
Referee: Chris Kavanagh (Lancashire).