The Lewis Price incident: Here’s what happened in time added on at the DW Stadium ... Wigan Athletic 3 Rotherham United 2

Lewis Price
Lewis Price

Manager Paul Warne said sorry afterwards, but only one man should have been apologising.

Lewis Price.

Rotherham United had been seconds away from opening Warne’s reign as permanent boss with only their second away point of a Championship season of sorrow which has already brought relegation.

Then goalkeeper Price lost his head and lost the Millers the match.

With the match deep into time added on and the score at 2-2, he kicked a ball downfield after being impeded, mischievously, by Wigan Athletic substitute Nick Powell.

As many eyes, including the referee’s and linesman’s, followed the clearance, the spat between Price and Powell ended with the Millers man jumping on to his opponent’s back on the edge of the penalty area.

Needlessly, senselessly, jumping on his back.

Both players wrestled and hit the deck, then leapt up in eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation, by which time the entire stadium was catching up to the fact something very strange was going on.

Ref Scott Duncan had missed it and so, obviously, had his assistant, who hadn’t raised his flag at the time of the incident and had gone racing back towards the halfway line to keep up with play.

Duncan consulted long and hard with the linesman, but his information must have been coming from elsewhere. I can think only that the fourth official was involved.

Free-kick to Wigan. The correct decision. Both players could have been sent off.

The man in the middle used his white spray to mark the spot on the right margin of the area but then moved it dead central, so someone was in his ear telling him something.

Of course, it had to be Powell who stepped up to smash home the winner with little more than a minute to go.

Warne, confirmed as full-time boss on Wednesday after a four-month caretaker spell, has always managed to keep his sense of humour in circumstances so difficult that his home life has been compromised.

But here, at the DW Stadium, he had to take himself back out on to the pitch to gather himself before facing the after-match press inquisition.

“Lewis has said something in there, but I’ll have to keep that in the dressing room,” he said. “I can’t talk about what goes on in there. There were some words being said by all of us. That’s all I can say.

“I apologise for the defeats because I am the guy in charge and I have to try to put that right.

“There is a lot of experience in the dressing room and I don’t think anyone has seen anything like it. I didn’t see it, so it’s hard for me to comment.

“Pricey kicked the ball. I know they had a bit of contact before he went to kick it. Then he kicked it and my eyes just followed the ball. I was actually appealing for a free-kick at the other end because I thought Jono (Jonson Clarke-Harris) took a bit of a hit.

“They took the free-kick and I hate to admit it but I shut my eyes because I’m just thinking it just sums up my luck if this goes in. Then I heard the roar from the fans. It’s hugely disappointing. At the worst, the lads deserved a draw.”

Price’s moment of madness may have cost Rotherham only a point. Yet when you’re locked in a season-long cycle of defeats and a new boss is desperate to salvage something, anything, before the campaign ends, it was a point that mattered.

Ironically, the keeper is regarded as a good man. A proper pro, well respected, a team player with the right attitude, one of Warne’s ‘go to’ people in the dressing room.

But this was the lowest I’ve seen the Millers camp all season.

It was a League One encounter masquerading as a Championship game. Rotherham, suffering a 10th successive loss, already know they are in the third tier next year, and the second-bottom Latics will be joining them.

Standards were low but, because they were low on both sides, it made for an open game.

Danny Ward, scoring his first league goal since Boxing Day, side-footed the Millers in front in the 29th minute but missed two other sitters. Wigan levelled five minutes later when Gabriel Obertan had more time and space than he needed to fire home.

Anthony Forde’s 20-yarder found a way through the fumbling Jakob Haugaard on the hour to restore Rotherham’s advantage. However it again lasted only five minutes, before Alex Gilbey rounded off a Wigan counter-attack.

Carlton Morris’s second-half header brought a wonderful stop from Haugaard, while Price saved smartly after the break from Gilbey and Powell.

“Although I wanted to win, I’d have been happy to take an away draw just to stop the rot,” said Warne.

Then he summed up perfectly what the occasion would be remembered for.

“The catastrophe of the 97th minute.”

Players and staff emerged from their inner sanctum tight-lipped, shaking their heads. There wasn’t just disappointment in the air. There was tension, frustration. Anger.

Even Richard O’Donnell, the sub goalkeeper with the most to gain from his teammate’s aberration, had a face like thunder.

“There were some words being said by all of us.”

Most of them, I suspect, directed at Price with the venom of a Powell free-kick.

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