Rotherham United: Why an unforgettable day had a promotion feel ... Scunthorpe 1 Millers 2
Paul Warne stood in front of 2,100 bouncing fans caught up in the joy of yet another win.
The manager raised his arms in triumph and the roar which greeted his victory salute was the third loudest of a memorable Rotherham United day.
Only the away-end acclaim after goals by Joe Newell and Semi Ajayi, as the rampant Millers extended their unbeaten League One run to 11 matches, had been noisier.
Rotherham are fifth in the table. The team one place above them had just fallen to their relentless pressing, swarming attacks and unyielding unity. Players, staff, supporters, they’re all in it together.
This had a promotion feel to it.
The figure conducting the party might have been a little trimmer than the 2013/14 version, when the Millers rose from the third tier under Steve Evans, but the mood and pandemonium was just the same.
So was the song. “Ee eye ee eye ee eye oh, up the Football League we go.”
The Millers haven’t lost since December 2, they have won eight of their last 11 games, they have triumphed in their last four, three of those four successes have come against play-off rivals and they have scored in 24 consecutive outings. That is some transformation after the shattering effects of last season’s relegation.
“You can see the players are really together and trying to win every game,” a proud boss said. “We set up to try to win every game. The run is going to end sooner or later, but the lads might as well enjoy it while they can.
“It’s a lovely feeling as a professional footballer when you walk on to the pitch and believe in each other and think you’re going to win before a ball has even been kicked.”
Somewhere amid the madness were Mrs Warne and Warne kids Mack and Riley. Warne tried to spot them in the ecstatic throng but couldn’t.
No matter. The other 2,097 were all part of the Millers family.
This was a battle between two good sides going for each other. Rotherham, for the second time this season, simply had more than Scunthorpe United could muster.
Joe Newell hooked home Will Vaulks’ long throw after 31 minutes to put the visitors ahead, then they got lucky when goalkeeper Marek Rodak felled Ivan Toney in the 40th minute and referee Graham Salisbury didn’t point to the spot.
“I thought the ref would give it,” Warne admitted. “Marek reckoned the lad fouled him. He said the lad ran into him and threw himself to the ground. I’ve seen them given.”
It happened right in front of the massed Millers following who nearly all thought stonewall penalty.
On 70 minutes, after Rotherham had repelled a spell of Scunthorpe pressure, Vaulks shot, the ball spiralled into the air and Semi Ajayi rose gloriously to send a header beyond the flailing dive of Matt Gilks.
Now, the chant was even louder. “When we win promotion, this is what we sing.”
Three minutes later, home substitute Lee Novak set up a tense finish as he rounded Rodak and fired past Joe Mattock on the line to reduce the arrears.
There is no fitter, more determined side in the divison than Warne’s men. They finished stronger than their opponents. Sub Caolan Lavery shot and was foiled when he should have made the game safe during eight minutes of time added on.
“Eight minutes?” queried Warne. “My reaction was calmer than that of my staff, to be honest. They were doing Mexican hat dances.”
In the very last seconds, Duane Holmes broke clear for the Iron and lofted his effort over Marek. 2,100 souls held their breath. Wide. And so the celebrations began.
TOP MEN IN A TEAM EFFORT
Vaulks was the first man to depart the pre-match handshakes and acknowledge the travelling support. He was first back after the final whistle to applaud their contribution.
In between, he and midfield partner Richie Towell set the tone and tempo, contesting everything, conceding nothing, always trying to get the Millers moving forward.
January signing Michael Smith ruled up front, battling, chasing, harrying, linking up play, displaying lovely control for a 6ft 4in targetman. Only a missed 65th-minute header marred his performance.
“My two centres mids were excellent,” Warne acknowledged. “The work they got through was immense. I’d love to see what distance they covered.
“‘Smudge’ was nearly unplayable. Every game he plays, he gets a little bit better, a little bit more confident. He buys into what we’re doing.”
Smith broke his nose last Saturday but chose not to wear the facial protection which had been custom-made for him during the week. That was a shame really as he’d have been up there in the Zorro and Lone Ranger class of masked hero.
Warne, showing a bit of stage management as deft as Smith’s touch, made sure he was the last man standing as the cheers rained down.
“It’s nice, when you get an away following like that, to applaud the crowd,” he said. “In fairness, I did tell the players and staff to milk it a little bit.
“The fans quite like it, and I quite like it too. It’s a nice feeling when you win away from home and people think the lads have done a good job.”
Passion hung in the air, along with the final line of the top-six anthem.
“We are Rotherham, we are Rotherham. Warney is our king.”