Ajayi dances to the bugler’s tune: Rotherham United 1 Shrewsbury Town 2

Shaun Cummings is grounded as Shrewsbury go down to 10 men. Pictures: Dean Atkins
Shaun Cummings is grounded as Shrewsbury go down to 10 men. Pictures: Dean Atkins

The bugler hit the first duff note. The final one belonged to Semi Ajayi.

The Last Post had been played before kick-off in Rotherham United’s nearest home game to Remembrance Sunday.

Richie Towell equalises

Richie Towell equalises

It’s fair to say, the man with the bugle - like too many of the Millers players in the match that followed - has had better days.

Despite being well below their best, the Rotherham were chasing a winner in the closing stages against League One leaders Shrewsbury Town.

The Millers had missed a penalty, the Shrews had scored. The visitors had seen a man sent off, Rotherham had levelled.

As the game entered stoppage time, the home side were where they had spent much of the second period: camped in the Shrewsbury half. If there was to be another goal, only one team looked like scoring it.

Kieffer Moore is foiled

Kieffer Moore is foiled

Then Town broke, Ajayi wobbled more than the pre-match Armistice rendition and the points were gone.

The centre-half inexplicably, needlessly, tried to to control the ball with his left foot when he had time to take it on his favoured right and skewed it behind his own byline.

“Semi gets a chance to clear it, gets his feet tied up and it’s a corner and goal,” was Rotherham boss Paul Warne’s terse, succint summing-up.

“It won’t surprise you to know that I was hugely frustrated when we gave that corner away. The defeat is a really difficult one to take.”

Paul Hurst acknowledges his goalkeeper's performance

Paul Hurst acknowledges his goalkeeper's performance

THE MATCH

Top scorer Kieffer Moore, after 13 goals in 17 league matches, lined up his 12th-minute spot-kick and there should have been only one outcome.

However, Shrewsbury goalkeeper Dean Henderson dived to his left and palmed the ball away.

It was a game-changing moment. Four minutes later, the Shrews were ahead as Jon Nolan took possession on the left flank and drove a low shot across Richard O’Donnell and in.

Paul Hurst

Paul Hurst

“Penalties get missed, obviously. But at home, against the top of the table, if you score, the fans are in good spirits and you feel you are going to go on and on and on,” Warne said. “I think the missing of the penalty affected the lads a bit mentally. It knocked them a little bit.

“If the penalty is scored when we are on top, I think we would go on and win the game.”

The Millers have lost some of their early-season spark and struggled to break down a nimble, hard-working, organised Town outfit who top the table because they are more than the sum of their parts.

The visitors were a threat, right winger Shaun Whalley at times making Millers left-back Joe Mattock play a game of ‘Where’s Whalley?’, but Shrews skipper Abu Ogogo was deservedly sent off for an over-the-ball challenge on Shaun Cummings in the 53rd minute and Rotherham seized control.

Richie Towell did everything right from just inside the box as he controlled a bouncing ball and volleyed in a 76th-minute equaliser.

With substitute Jonson Clarke-Harris having joined Moore up front, the Millers went for a winner. Like the bugler, they huffed and puffed. But pressure brought no clear-cut opportunites as the opposition, led by Henderson, stood firm.

“The Shrewsbury players put their bodies on the line for the team. I thought their goalkeeper was outstanding,” Warne said. “He came and got no end of ball, which helps the back four considerably.

“I went for power over finesse, possibly, in the second half with my two big lads up front, but they didn’t really have a header in the six-yard box because the keeper came and took everything.”

Ajayi messed up and Stefan Payne struck from the 93rd-minute corner. Rotherham had been undone by a defensive error, and that’s not the first time that’s been written this season.

The Millers slipped from sixth place to eighth and are now on a run of five league matches without a victory.

To add to the misery, they had just had a corner of their own and there had been a big shout for handball a moment before Shrewsbury launched their match-clinching counter-attack.

“I think - and I’ve watched it back a couple of times - their lad moves his arm and the ball hits his hand,” Warne said. “I think it’s a penalty to us.”

WARNE V HURST

This was the battle of the former teammates as Warne went head to head with Shrews boss Paul Hurst, the defender with whom he enjoyed so much success when the pair played together for Rotherham under Ronnie Moore.

Hurst, second only to Danny Williams in number of Millers appearances, was given a rousing reception by home supporters before kick-off and Warne said: “It’s a great day for him.

“I thought the fans were brilliant with him before the game. I take nothing away from him and he is going to be pleased with that result coming back here.”

Warne occupied the left wing when Hurst played left-back. They called Warne’s role the “position of death” and to this day Hurst refers to his old pal as ‘POD’.

They shared a joke in Warne’s office before the match and embraced at the final whistle. By then, there was nothing for Rotherham to laugh about.

Payne had taken up his own position of death, close in by O’Donnell’s right-hand post, and there was a feeling of stunned disbelief around AESSEAL New York Stadium as he swept the ball into the roof of the net.

After the bugler, there had been the customary minute of respect. Now it fell just as silent.

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