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How good was Joe Newell as Rotherham United show they’re up for play-off fight? Millers 3 Fleetwood 2

A goal for Joe Newell during a stunning individual performance. Pictures: Dean Atkins
A goal for Joe Newell during a stunning individual performance. Pictures: Dean Atkins

Paul Warne was in fighting mood on Saturday night.

Just as his Rotherham United players had been during a contest which restored the momentum to their push for League One promotion.

The Millers manager was heading off to Doncaster to watch a surgeon friend take part in a white-collar boxing event.

He left AESSEAL New York Stadium a happy man, having watched his side climb off the floor after conceding an early goal and then have the character to pull away towards the end when they had been pegged back by in-form Fleetwood Town to 2-2.

Richard Wood, a player always up for a scrap, bagged the decisive 77th-minute goal that ended Fleetwood’s four-match winning run and helped fourth-placed Rotherham pull away from the chasing play-off pack.

Not everyone was sure which part of his anatomy got the final touch to Joe Newell’s free-kick.

Richard Wood celebrates his winner

Richard Wood celebrates his winner

“I’ve just spoken to him and he says he’s scored off his knee,” grinned Warne. “That’s good because his feet are horrendous.”

Wood, following his boss into the York York press room and basking in his moment of being one of the country’s leading marksmen following two goals in two matches, begged to differ.

The grizzled defender, getting himself on the end of Joe Newell’s free-kick in a close-in melee, reckoned the ball had gone in off his hip.

One thing that wasn’t in doubt was that this was a huge, huge win.

Boss Paul Warne at the end

Boss Paul Warne at the end

The Millers had wobbled recently, winning only one of their previous six matches. Here, when it really mattered, they passed their test of character and fully deserved three crucial points.

“If we had lost today and other results had gone against us, it would have heaped the pressure on the next game,” Warne said. “The other results haven’t gone badly for us, so the timing of this win is important.”

The gap between the Millers and the side in fifth could have been as little as two points if they’d lost and events elsewhere had conspired against them.

Instead, with only five matches of the regular season left, the margin is back up to a healthy six.

Richie Towell up against Conor McAleny

Richie Towell up against Conor McAleny

“It’s all about getting points now,” Warne said. “Fleetwood are a good team who hadn’t conceded in five games so to score three against them is testament to the lads.”

THE GAME

Rotherham had worked on set-pieces in training. After five minutes, they conceded from a corner, Ashley Eastham stabbing home after his free header had been parried by Marek Rodak.

Seven minutes later, they were level as Newell, with the first of many impressive contributions, supplied a low free-kick from the left and Nathan Pond turned the ball into his own net.

The visitors, always with eight men behind the ball, held out until the 50th minute when a corner was cleared, Matt Palmer headed back towards goal and Newell applied a sumptuous volleyed finish from 18 yards.

The Millers’ lead lasted only four minutes as Cian Bolger rose unchecked at the back post to head in Ashley Hunter’s free-kick.

Central defender Semi Ajayi was taken off in a reshuffle at the back in which Josh Emmanuel came on and Will Vaulks switched to the heart of the defence from right-back

“I thought, apart from out defending on set-pieces, we were pretty good,” the manager said. “We shouldn’t have to score three goals to win a game.”

Wood was a centre-half enjoying a more productive afternoon. He delivered the knockout blow in front of the North Stand, and the home side could have increased their margin of victory as Michael Smith, three times, and Vaulks missed chances.

“I’m happy for Woody to score with his knee, his buttock, his head, his throat, anything,” Warne said. “I was going to say he bleeds red, but most people do, don’t they? He puts his heart on his sleeve and he gives his job-lot.

“Woody is one of those lads - a bit like Chris Swailes, who I used to play with - who would break his nose if he thought he was going to score a goal for the team. That’s how you want your centre-halves to be. They’ve got to be brave and strong.

“There was tension inside the stadium because everybody knows the importance of the home games especially. We didn’t move the ball quickly enough in the first half but we did in the second. The longer the game went on, the better we looked.”

JOE THE JEWEL

Warne had one word for his left winger’s performance: ‘unplayable’.

Newell tore Fleetwood apart with his mazy running, while one piece of control when, tight to the touchline, he killed a ball falling from the clouds was Premier League quality.

The sponsors, perhaps affected by the strength of the wine served in corporate hospitality, chose Richie Towell as their star man instead.

“Newelly was literally unplayable today,” Warne said. “His touch in the bottom corner was as good as a goal in my head. That’s why people come to sport, to see great things.

“Considering this is the third echelon of English football, that is some talented player out there. No disrespect to Richie, but I have no idea how Newelly didn’t win Man of the Match. He set a goal up, scored a goal and every time he got the ball he was a threat.”

Warne’s pugilistic pal, by the way, knee specialist Paul Haslam, was a winner.

Next, the Millers, buoyed by a victory of their own, head to second-placed Wigan Athletic.

“Wigan are a good side,” Wood acknowledged. “But after that showing we have nothing to fear.”

Added his boss: “People won’t fancy us to go to Wigan, who’ve scored five today, and get something, but I quite fancy us away from home.”

Fighting talk.

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