Rotherham United: Dull, rubbish, bottlers ... were you watching, Piers Morgan? Millers 2 AFC Wimbledon 0
In the week when Piers Morgan very publicly questioned them, Rotherham United came up with all the answers.
Morgan had taken umbrage at criticism on social media from midfielder Will Vaulks who was no fan of his chummy TV one-on-one with American president Donald Trump.
If you played for the Millers, you must be “dull”, “rubbish”, a “bottler”, the interviewer’s Twitter reply implied.
That would be the side who are now unbeaten in their last 10 matches and up to fifth in League One, the team who have scored in 23 consecutive games and haven’t conceded in their last three outings.
AFC Wimbledon arrived at AESSEAL New York Stadium with a five-game unbeaten record of their own and were no mugs. Rotherham, whose play-off aspirations are growing more real by the week, matched them for effort and beat them on quality.
The Millers haven’t lost since December 2, their defence has been breached only twice in 2018 and 10 games have brought 24 points.
“Once you’re in the play-off reckoning, you don’t want to drop out of it,” said manager Paul Warne whose pre-season aim was the top 10. “I’d be stupid to sit here and say we’re not trying to at least get in the play-offs. We are, and we’re giving ourselves every opportunity.
“I say to the lads before every game: ‘Don’t wast a year of your career, don’t waste a day of your life.’ They’re enjoying playing football. They’re a close group. That gives me a lot of pride.”
Vaulks was tweeting again after the match, revelling in the victory, praising his teammates.
Long may this dull, bottling rubbish continue.
Targetman Michael Smith had to depart in the 67th minute with a facial injury, sustained in the first half, which simply refused to stop bleeding.
His busted hooter matched the colour of the shirt he’d been forced to change at least three times, but by then he’d already shown his nose for a goal.
The January signing scored for the second time in two starts as a superb 14th-minute ball from Joe Newell found him in the penalty area to give Rotherham the half-time lead they deserved.
“‘Smudge’ went through about six blood shirts, eight pairs of shorts and 10 pairs of socks,” joked Warne. “We had to take him off because we kept going down to 10 men while he changed his gear.”
Wimbledon probed much harder than Piers Morgan after the break, but the Millers still fashioned the best chances and David Ball headed home a stoppage-time clincher after a deft link-up between substitutes Caolan Lavery and Ryan Williams.
Rotherham had overrun Portsmouth and Bradford City in the second halves of their two previous home triumphs. This was different. This was a team full of resolve and belief standing up to a test and doing what had to be done to take all three points. Fluid at times, not always pretty. Warne loved the way his team “ugged” it out.
“Wimbledon started the second half really well, put us on the back foot and asked us to defend,” the boss conceded. “Our lads defended really well.
“They had a lot of corners. A few months ago, we were being criticised for conceding too many goals at corners. We’ve asked the lads to step it up and in the last 10 games they definitely have. They’re throwing their bodies on the line. We deserved to win. We definitely created enough chances.”
Vaulks almost played a perfect Trump card right at the end, his shot kept out only by a good save from George Long who then did even better to thwart Jon Taylor.
Matt Palmer should have marked his debut with a goal, Caolan Lavery decorated his by playing a huge part in Ball’s late intervention
Central midfielder Palmer, starting because of a knee injury to Richie Towell, shot wide of an empty net in the 52nd minute, but demonstrated Championship-standard passing and control in his first outing since arriving for a six-figure sum from Burton Albion.
Striker Lavery, signed on loan from Sheffield United, was a mobile threat after replacing Smith and his twinkling footwork freed Williams for a saved shot that set up Ball’s follow-up header.
Both showed encouraging signs that Rotherham will be considerably stronger for their presence.
Warne, meanwhile, was straight off to the ice hockey in Sheffield after his Press duties, promising to have a couple of drinks in celebration.
“I was really pleased for Smudge to get his goal,” he said. “That will make his dodgy nose feel better when he wakes up in the morning.”
Another triumph for the Millers. The performance wasn’t quite presidential, but they’re in the top six on merit and no team in the division is giving more for the cause.
This was a good day, an important day. Blood, sweat and beers.