If there’s a more honest player in English football than Lee Frecklington, I’ve yet to to meet him.
So when the Rotherham United captain makes a genuine appeal for a foul, there’s a fair chance an infringement has taken place.
The midfield man was sat on his backside, having been pushed over from behind by Newcastle centre-half Ciaran Clark, asking the referee to intervene as the Magpies broke in the 41st-minute and right winger Christian Atsu produced a stunning strike to win the match.
It was cruel luck on the valiant Millers whose all-action, hard-running display rattled the big-spending Championship visitors and deserved at least a draw. Everyone was questioning the referee, nobody was questioning the effort and attitude of the home side.
Manager Alan Stubbs - proud of his players, frustrated that they should remain in bottom spot after such a performance - had his skipper’s back in a much better way than Clark.
“I have no doubt it was a foul,” he said. “It’s pretty obvious there were two hands on Frecks which made him go to the floor. I thought it was a pretty basic game to referee but the man in the middle wanted to get involved and become the centre of attention for some reason.”
After Dominic Ball had superbly cleared a Yoan Gouffran shot off the line, Rotherham took control of much of the first half. Joe Newell’s 22-yard shot was tipped over for a corner, Jon Taylor’s deflected 20-yard effort hit the bar and Tom Adeyemi shot wide after slick build-up play involving Frecklington, Izzy Brown and Taylor.
Newcastle were in the Premier League last season and Atsu - who later brought the best out of Rotherham goalkeeper Lee Camp in the second half - delivered a moment of top-flight quality, cutting in from the right and thumping an unstoppable left-footed shot into the far top corner.
The Millers threw everything at the third-placed Magpies towards the end. Gouffran, under pressure from Ball, directed the ball on to his own post in the 85th minute and seconds later Will Vaulks’ header was going in until Clark cleared off the line.
Later, just as Stubbs had backed up Frecklington’s protestations, television evidence backed up Stubbs. 41st minute, Clark on Frecklington, two hands in the back.
NEW YORK, NEW YORK
This encounter was a proper New York Stadium occasion, a sold-out clash with both sets of supporters playing their full and noisy part as Stubbs’ men stood up to be counted against one of the giants of the English game.
Rotherham gave their all and really went for it. This is how the Millers should be, how they have prospered over the last few seasons, team and followers as one and fans totally behind the commitment of their men in red and white.
In the final stages, there was some frantic, last-ditch swipes and clearances from the Magpies. A top side which spent more than £50 million on summer recruitment were being forced to defend in a manner they probably thought they’d reduce the Millers to.
It happens often, a Premier League referee dropping down to the Championship and then delivering a League Two performance.
Maybe things work differently in the top flight. Maybe the whistle is blown more easily. Maybe a gesture that usually attracts no attention in the second tier is a booking in Roger East’s eyes
There was nothing ‘maybe’ about the Wiltshire official erring badly for the game’s only goal. The foul weas blatant. And he got plenty more wrong besides.
Frecklington was booked for an innocuous challenge, Danny Ward saw yellow merely for holding out his arms to wonder what he’d done wrong and Toon keeper Karl Darlow was given a foul when no Millers player touched him.
Meanwhile, Izzy Brown was offered scant protection from some over-zealous attention when Newcastle put two men on him after Rotherham’s bright opening.
Stubbs, who usually makes a point of acknowledging officials after games, stood by the tunnel and clapped his players off the pitch at the end. His hand remained unproffered when East and his team of assistants walked past.
REASON FOR HOPE
Rotherham’s last two games, a 2-1 defeat at Huddersfield in midweek and the unlucky loss against Newcastle, have come against sides now first and third in the table.
The Millers could have taken a point against Town and certainly should have done against Toon. They’ve gone up against the best and emerged with credit.
Results need to catch up with performances, but there are signs they are now heading in the right direction, with the defence tightening up, more play on the front foot and a team spirit emerging.
“There were certain aspects of the game which showed we are certainly getting better,” Stubbs said. “Today, one bit of quality was the difference between the teams.
“If the players keep performing like that then it will not be long before they start picking up points. I have no doubt about that because we took the game to Newcastle and it was a pretty uncomfortable 90 minutes for them.”
As uncomfortable as East will have felt when he turned on his TV.