Rotherham United: Honours even, a pie in the face for Joe Newell, now bring on New York ... Scunthorpe 2 Millers 2
In the heat of the play-off semi-final, as the battle raged at its fiercest, Paul Warne found time for a quiet word with opposing boss Nick Daws.
Years ago, Warne and Daws had shared a dressing room in their Rotherham United playing days. At Glanford Park, they shared a touchline as rival managers fighting for a place in the Championship.
The score was 2-2. The Millers had led twice but, with time ebbing away, Scunthorpe United had just equalised for the second time.
The board went up showing seven minutes of time added on and Rotherham chief Warne turned to his Iron counterpart.
“It was funny,” he recalled. “I said to Dawsy on 90 minutes: ‘Would you take a 2-2 now?’ He went: ‘Yeah’, and I said: ‘Cor, would I!’”
Warne and his players would have accepted shared spoils before this first leg. Scunthorpe, with home advantage, would have wanted a win.
Daws’ side were sharp on the break. The Millers, with Michael Smith to the fore, were a regular threat going forward. Honours even on the day was about right.
The teams recommence hostilities at AESSEAL New York Stadium on Wednesday with a place in the League One final at Wembley at stake.
Level at half-time. But New York will be full, New York will be bouncing, New York will be staging one of those nights under the lights for which it has become famed.
“I hope we make it as loud and proud as we can,” Warne said. “I don’t want to tempt fate, but historically we are good under the lights.
“There is a good relationship between the fans and players. The players respect the fans and I think there is a sincerity about it.”
The Millers will fancy their chances.
This was fast food at its finest. Joe Newell had been on the pitch for only 58 seconds when he put Rotherham 2-1 in front and took a pie in the face for his trouble.
His first touch saw him rifling an unstoppable 64th-minute shot across goal and past rookie goalkeeper Rory Watson who’d just come on to replace the injured Matt Gilks.
A stray savoury from the crowd landed flush in the mush, but he wasn’t complaining. Chicken balti, the 25-year-old winger who enjoys his curries revealed to a Radio Sheffield reporter.
Talking of filling, Millers followers had snapped up every seat available in the away end and it exploded in red and white frenzy as Newell struck right in front of it. Mark Wood, father of centre-half and captain Richard, was in there having the time of his life. “Pandemonium,” he said.
Rotherham had taken a 17th-minute lead when Jon Taylor controlled Richie Towell’s exquisite chip over the defence to steer low past Gilks. However, unlike Newell and his pie, they had no chance to savour the moment.
Michael Ihiekwe, attempting to cut out a Duane Holmes effort that was bouncing off target, immediately put through his own net. He should have snuffed out the danger, but Warne went easy on his central defender.
“He was trying to clear it,” the boss said. “It looked like it was going wide but he was trying to do the right thing. I won’t critcise him for that. It’s just bobbled and hit his shin.”
“Super Joey’ chants were ringing out when the super-sub finished off Josh Emmanuel’s driving 50-metre run and cross, which had been helped on its way by Towell’s miscued overhead kick, before Cameron McGeehan bundled in the leveller from close range at the second attempt in the 88th minute following a long throw-in.
Rodak had looked favourite to gather the loose ball on the goalline until he was impeded by his own defence, allowing McGeehan to became the second substitute of the afternoon to score.
Rory McArdle hit the bar for Scunthorpe when a corner found its way to his feet three minutes after the own goal, Rodak denied Holmes with a fine save three minutes after Newell’s intervention and Ryan Williams almost put the Millers 3-1 up with a curling 18-yarder just before McGeehan pounced.
“It was an edgy game,” Warne reflected. “ To come away from here 2-1 up would have been a great result, but I can’t be greedy. Scunthorpe played well. They are a great side, so to come here and match them on their own turf is good and we can take credit for that.
“I am pleased with the players. We asked them not to lose the game and they haven’t.”
Rotherham scorers Taylor and Newell are close pals. Taylor, when he joined the Millers two seasons ago, crashed at Newell’s flat for a while until he found his own place and the pair room together on away trips.
There was a thumbs-up between them after Newell had replaced his buddy and made his instant impact.
“He is my best mate, so I was over the moon for him,” Taylor said. “What more do you want than to come on and score with your first touch in front of our fans?
“We are roommates. I get no sleep as he snores and reads books until one o’clock in the morning to get to sleep. He has the light on and it gets hot and sweaty and I have earplugs. I don’t really like sharing with him!”
Like the rest of the Millers players, the duo were initially disappointed after the final whistle and had to be roused in the dressing room by Warne.
“I always let the players have a few minutes on their own before I speak,” the manager said. “When I went in, it was downbeat, like they’d just been beaten. I pointed out that If I’d have offered them 2-2 before they game, they would have taken it. They gave it their all.”
Then, he delved into the past to underline where his men are after last season’s relegation, how far they have come, how close to glory they now stand.
“If I’d have offered them back in June a one-night-only game against Scunthorpe to get to Wembley for the play-off final, they would definitely have taken it,” he said.
Taylor, hoping to shake off a dead-leg, is already counting down the hours.
“The fans were unbelievable today and the atmosphere was amazing,” he said. “With our home support, hopefully Wednesday will be even better. I can’t wait for it. I love big games.”
New York under the lights, full and bouncing.
Like Newell’s balti, it might all be a bit spicy.