Rotherham United verdict and reaction: Millers 2 Brentford 1
Lee Frecklington, a man who's been around for most of New York's big occasions, described the noise as the loudest he's ever known at the stadium.
Opposing boss Dean Smith labelled it a “cauldron of hate”.
The man stirring the seething hostility in Rotherham United fans was referee Mark Brown.
He’d been hapless from the start of a match most observers felt the Millers simply had to win to keep alive their hopes of staying in the Championship.
Now he was unbelievably wretched as he awarded Brentford a penalty two minutes before half-time as the home side led 1-0.
Frecklington, not fully fit but returning in the club’s hour of need, made one of his many telling contributions, poking the ball out of the penalty area clearly before the arrival of Sergi Canos.
Canos hit the deck, Brown hit the panic button and Alan Judge levelled the scores.
To rub salt into very sore wounds, Judge couldn’t score from the spot-kick as Lee Camp saved but made the most of a rebound which fell very kindly for him.
Warnock revealed that the Republic of Ireland international had mocked him while New York reached boiling point.
“Their manager even said it wasn’t a penalty and Judgey was laughing at me, at the bench.” he said. “ I said to him: ‘Wait while 90 minutes is up, Son.’”
We all know who was laughing at the end.
Weaker teams might have folded. Not Rotherham. Not with their season on the line. In a strange way, East Yorkshire’s Brown had done them a favour.
Fuelled by anger, spurred on by injustice, team and supporters bonded by adversity, the Millers dominated the second half and, as the dust finally settled on one of those backs-to-the wall days Frecklington revels in, the gap between them and safety was down from six points to three.
“They couldn’t have given any more,” said Warnock. “We might be a bit limited, but not in the heart stakes. There, we were fabulous.
“I said to the lads at half-time: ‘We have got to forget about that penalty now. We’ve got another 45 minutes where I think we can be better than them and go and get the win. It can’t all go against us.’ I think we were superb against all the odds and decisions.”
With time running out in the survival bid, Warnock had gambled, starting midfielder Frecklington and striker Leon Best, who weren’t fully recovered from injuries, and Jerome Thomas, a left winger with a Premier-League pedigree yet no action for 13 months.
None of them reached the final whistle. But all three made a significant impact.
The last playing link between now and the successive promotions, Freck is Rotherham and Rotherham is Freck. He was man of the match in his first game for two months and received a standing ovation when he trooped off in the 81st minute, having lasted longer than Warnock had dared anticipate.
“The gaffer asked me if I felt I could play and, you know what I’m like, I always play if I can,” said the skipper. “It was a spirited, fighting effort in the second half, everything you’d expect from Rotherham.
“At the end, kicking towards the home end, it felt like a great performance. I’m really pleased we finally got something out of it.”
You could almost guarantee what kind of display he would put in. Yes, Frecklington’s a banker, which sounds uncannily like the heartfelt chants being spat at the man in the middle from the North Stand.
In the first 12 minutes, there were good shouts for home penalties as, first, Richard Wood claimed he was pulled and then former Millers loanee Jack O’Connell grabbed hold of Kirk Broadfoot and hauled him to the ground, but Brown’s mind was elsewhere.
After a stunning Camp save had kept out a Judge free-kick, recalled Millers striker Matt Derbyshire swept the ball across goal and beyond David Button after being fed at the second attempt by Frecklington in the 29th minute.
His celebrations brought him a booking as he revealed a T-shirt saying ‘Happy birthday to my boys’, obviously better received by eight-year-old Braidin and Callum than it was by Brown.
Best tested Button, for my money the best keeper in the division, Greg Halford volleyed just wide and then came the 43rd-minute flashpoint. The ref made his biggest error of all and, as Brentford’s man waited to take the spot-kick, nearly 8,000 home fans handed down their own baying verdict. Judge and fury.
“He just got himself in a muddle,” Warnock said. “I think he knew by the reaction really. Frecklington got the ball and you could see where the ball had gone.
“I was disappointed as I felt his officials might have helped him. We could see it from where we were and I thought the fourth official or two linesmen might have seen we won the ball clearly and given him a chance to change his mind. It was so obvious to me.”
The second half was nearly all Rotherham. Halford flashed a header over, goalbound shots from Halford and Frecklington were stopped by wonderful interventions from Jake Bidwell and Harlee Dean respectively, Joe Mattock fired a free-kick just wide, Thomas cut inside to shoot and substitute Danny Ward was denied by Button brilliance.
Finally, Frecklington refused to give up his pursuit of the ball in the 71st minute and his persistence resulted in Ward shooting joyfully home.
“My only problem at half-time at 1-1 was that I knew certain players would only last 10 or 15 minutes longer and I was hoping we might be a couple of goals up by the time they went off,” Warnock said.
“It didn’t work out like that, but Wardy came on and took his goal really well and could have had a hat-trick while he was on.”
The new manager, now four games into the job, didn’t accept this was a match Rotherham had to win to retain any chance of survival yet, after no victories in seven beforehand and tough tests now to come against Sheffield Wednesday, Middlesbrough, Derby and Ipswich, many might argue otherwise.
This was about more than three points. This was also about the huge lift to confidence and belief, both of which had been in dwindling supply.
Hope can kill you but it also keeps you alive.
The challenge remains daunting, although Rotherham at least look up for the battle. On Saturday centre-halves Wood and Broadfoot wore matching red head bandages to protect wounds from wars past and, like ninja warriors, led a backline which was unflinching in its resistance and tight in its organisation.
“More like the guys from the 118 adverts,” Wood grinned.
Two minutes after Ward had struck, Frazer Richardson saved a certain Bees goal with a block on Philipp Hofmann that was even better than those of Bidwell and Dean, and, as New York held its breath in time added on, Camp produced a vital save from Lasse Vibe to seal Warnock’s first win and the success his men deserved.
There was still time for Brown to complete his miserable afternoon with one more mistake as he blew for the last time with 15 seconds of four added minutes still on the clock.
Only this time, gloriously, deliriously, nobody cared.
Rotherham United (4-4-2): Camp 8; Richardson 8, Broadfoot 8, Wood 8, Mattock 8; Halford 7, Frecklington (Green 81) 9, Smallwood 7, Thomas (G Ward 76) 7; Best 7 (D Ward 64, 8), Derbyshire 7. Subs not used: Kenny, Kelly, Newell, Clarke-Harris.
Brentford (4-2-3-1): Button 7; Yannaris 6, Dean 8, O’Connell 6, Bidwell 6; Woods 6, McEachran (Kerschbaumer 78) 7; Canos (Vibe 83) 5, Judge 7, Swift 5; Djuricin 5 (Hofmann 64, 6). Subs not used: Bonham, Saunders, Barbet, Clarke.
Goals: Derbyshire 29, D Ward 71 (Rotherham); Judge 43 (Brentford).
Referee: Mark Brown (East Yorkshire).
Attendance: 8,534 (556).