Proud Warne misses the celebration as magic Millers reach Wembley: Rotherham United 2 Scunthorpe 0 (4-2 on aggregate)
The journey that began in Austria, picked up speed at Roundwood and took in a season of Rotherham United revolution will end at Wembley.
The Millers booked their place in the League One Play-off Final in another of the famous nights under the lights at a packed AESSEAL New York Stadium.
Goals from Richard Wood, whose captain’s display typified Rotherham’s resolve, and Will Vaulks against a Scunthorpe United side unbeaten in 10 games meant Paul Warne’s first full season in charge got the home finale it deserved.
New York was at full volume as Vaulks’ semi-final strike in the 63rd minute gave Millers supporters plenty of time to relish the occasion following last Saturday’s 2-2 first-leg draw.
Manager Warne started to cast his spell on the club’s pre-season tour of Austria, players old and new bonded at the club’s Roundwood training complex and now they head to the national stadium later this month to take on Shrewsbury Town for a place in the Championship.
Thousands of fans raced on the pitch at the final whistle to continue the party and the team joined chairman Tony Stewart on the balcony of the West Stand to acknowledge their acclaim.
“It feels a little bit surreal. It hasn’t sunk in yet. I am really proud,” said Warne who was unable to make the balcony because the lift wouldn’t arrive in time!
“To finish the season with a final at Wembley is something that can’t be taken off me.
“We can just have a real go and hopefully make the town proud.”
The giant Rotherham flag, paid for by a supporters’ campaign, was flying before kick-off and so were the tackles when the action began in opening stages which were high on endeavour and atmosphere but low on clear chances.
Scunthorpe, sharp and organised, started the better of the two sides, although neither goalkeeper was tested until the 19th minute when the Millers’ Marek Rodak dived low to his right to keep out a Hakeeb Adelakun shot.
The home team forced their way into the game but were kept at bay by committed defending as Ryan Williams, twice, and Richie Towell, had shots blocked.
Good shouts for a penalty when Williams fell under a clumsy challenge from Ryan Yates were waved away in the 23rd minute and Michael Ihiekwe fired over from the edge of the penalty area soon after.
Ihiekwe was close to a 28th-minute opener when he followed up his own header only for Rory Watson to keep out the centre-half’s second attempt and the rookie keeper, in for the injured Matt Gilks, did even better nine minutes later, producing a stunning save to push away Towell’s 20-yard curler.
Rotherham pressure was mounting. Joe Mattock headed wide at the back post from Will Vaulks when he should have scored, Matt Palmer’s shot was spilled, then the breakthrough game on the stroke of half-time.
Vaulks launched a long throw and Richard ‘Wrecking Ball’ Wood did what he does best, rising highest to power home his header. A great time for the Millers to score, a terrible time for Scunthorpe to concede.
Provider Vaulks turned goal hero himself just past the hour mark, scoring on the volley in front of the delirous North Stand when Josh Emmanuel’s cross fell to him following a trademark driving burst down the right by the full-back.
“At least this year we have given the fans something to be proud of,” added Warne, 12 months on from the drop from the second tier.
“To get to Wembley is pretty amazing. If I don’t achieve anything else I have definitely achieved that.
“I went to the cinema in the morning to watch Deadpool 2 with my wife, just so I did not think about football.“ then beat Richie (Barker, assistant manager) at squash, so that took my mind off it as well. But the game could not come quickly enough and I really wanted to get on with it.”
Wood got in a crucial block on Ivan Toney to maintain the two-goal advantage and, as the Iron fought desperatelty to get back into the contest, Cameron McGeehan headed wide when it seems easier to score before Rodak foiled Holmes in a 74th-minute one-on-one.
Three minutes later Rory McArdle was sent off for a second yellow card and as he walked off he tooked any remaining Scunthorpe chance with him.
Jon Taylor’s effort was kept out by Watson amid the songs and chants at New York and Joe Newell twice shot off target as home supporters began their celebrations early, although Rodak had to produce a stunning stop to deny Holmes.
Some people were on the pitch. They knew it was all over. Supporters took to the turf at the end, chanting the name of Stewart who raised his arms in salute.
“Richard Wood is magic,” they sang to the delight of the skipper and his two young sons. So have been all the Rotherham team in this amazing year of transformation.
The campaign has already had many memorable away days: Portsmouth, Blackpool, Northampton, Shrewsbury, Wigan and Gillingham to name just a few.
Next comes the biggest of them all: Sunday May 27, when Warne, his men and 20,000 other Millers will head to the home of English football.
Rotherham (4-1-4-1): Rodak; Emmanuel, Ihiekwe (Ajayi 51), Wood, Mattock; Palmer; Williams (Taylor 68), Towell, Vaulks, Newell (Forde 89); Smith: Subs not used: Price, Purrington, Ball, Lavery.
Scunthorpe (4-2-3-1): Watson; Vermijl, McArdle, Wallace, Townsend; Yates (Hopper 83), Ojo; Morris, Holmes Adelakun (McGeehan 62); Toney (Novak 80). Subs not used: Kelsey, Bishop, Burgess, Sutton.
Goals: Wood 45+2, Vaulks 63 (Rotherham).
Sent off: McArdle (Scunthorpe 77).
Referee: Scott Duncan (Northumberland).
Attendance: 11.061 (1,202).