'˜Wrecking Ball' Wood has rising Millers singing in the rain: Rochdale 0 Rotherham United 1
'Well done, Wrecking Ball.'
Rotherham United match-winner Richard Wood was talking to the Press on the Spotland touchline half an hour after the final whistle when boss Paul Warne breezed past.
His manager cheerily shouted out in praise of his grizzled centre-half who had epitomised the character and defiance running through the entire Millers team as they overcame Rochdale’s rugged approach.
Six wins in eight games. Away results starting to catch up with the rampant home form. Up to fourth in the League One table. Beating a side that hadn’t conceded in their previous five matches. No wonder 1,200-plus Rotherham followers were singing in the rain that bounced down all afternoon.
Wood’s hooter, after years at the coalface of professional football, is bent all over his face. But the 32-year-old has a nose for a chance.
That’s why Warne calls him ‘Wrecking Ball’. The defender will throw himself at anything in the opposition penalty area and lets nothing get in his way.
Millers fans now have a song about him. His battle-scarred face was a picture of delight afterwards. It’s the first one he’s had in his long career.
“I’ll always back myself in the other side’s box,” he said. “Whether it’s 50:50 or 60:40 against, I’m not bothered ... I’m going to try to get to the ball.”
He paused for a moment of reflection, then continued.
“To be honest, I’ll have a crack if it’s 80:20.”
Days like this - away from home in the wet and wind, when the home support is one-eyed, when your team stands up to the physical, fouling, niggling challenge, when you see your club moving forward - are special.
The Millers weathered the loss of skipper Lee Frecklington to injury after only three minutes and went on to deservedly win on their travels for the second time in four matches.
Wood was given early problems by Steven Davies, the Rochdale striker with extra helpings of talent and bulk, but fought his way into the game and was soon giving as good as he was getting.
His moment of glory came in the 57th minute when he barged away markers at the back post to head home an Anthony Forde corner.
Davies headed on to the bar two minutes later, but from then on Wood, along with the rest of the Rotherham backline, was so resolute that, until home substitute Bradden Inman skied a chance in time added on, Warne’s men were the more dangerous side.
“Rochdale didn’t really create enough to score,” said Warne. “Before the game, I would have taken a point, to be honest. The fact we won and played well in difficult conditions is great.”
After Davies had been a whisker over with a lovely curling effort on the turn, the Millers should have taken the lead in a purple patch midway through the opening period when Will Vaulks’ header was kept out by Lillis, Richie Towell was denied by a sharp save after being played in by Darren Potter and Forde snatched at a clear opening created by Ryan Williams.
“We could have got one or two in the first half, but it was a close game,” Warne added. “We expect that. They are not just going to lay down and let you play.
“They were the most athletic, the closest to us, that we have seen this season.”
The manager stood in the downpour, both arms raised, acknowledging the Rotherham fans who were turning up his name to full volume.
The horribly-fractured 2016/17 campaign of three managers and relegation is behind them. Momentum is building. The Millers are together again.
“I told the lads at the end to milk it,” Warne said. “It’s a great feeling when you are going over to the crowd and they are chanting and clapping.
“A lot of those supporters have travelled to a lot of games over the last year or two where it hasn’t been so much fun.”
What made it even more memorable for the boss was that his teenage son, Mack, was in among the 1,221 soaked souls.
Warne was quick to talk down the prospect of promotion. But he couldn’t stop the travelling army chanting about it.
With four minutes to go, when limbs were creaking like Wood’s knees, when top scorer Kieffer Moore had run himself to a virtual standstill, a Millers attack foundered and the home team broke.
Williams, who’d already put in an energy-sapping shift, dug deep and chased back 60 metres at top speed to end the threat.
“We have got lads who are willing to work,” Warne said. “Willo is in there nearly asleep. Him and Fordey are ‘goosed’.
“Fordey played 90 minutes on Tuesday, so I am lucky that I have got a fit group. But it’s not just about having a fit group. You have got to put your body through hell and my lot are pretty good at doing that.”
By the end, Wood had won his battle with Davies. Rotherham had won theirs with Dale.
Wrecking Ball and the Millers. One and the same.