Rotherham United assistant manager Richie Barker admitted that the four big moments in the game were pivotal, as he oversaw his side agonisingly defeated 2-1 by Norwich City on Saturday.
Another colossal effort from the AESSEAL New York Stadium outfit was cruelly punished by the Canaries, who snatched all three points in South Yorkshire through Jordan Hugill’s stoppage time spot kick.
It had been the Millers who had made the early running in what would prove to be an enthralling end-to-end second tier affair with Freddie Ladapo drawing first blood on two minutes.
Michael Ihiekwe’s was desperately unlucky to turn a Max Aarons cross into his own goal before Angus MacDonald saw red for a challenge on Oliver Skipp, which made life tough for the 10-man Millers.
Speaking after the game, Barker praised his team’s endeavour and admitted that the big events in the game just didn’t go for the Millers.
"I’m immensely proud. We had a fantastic work ethic, were excellent on the ball, created opportunities and stuck to the game plan,” he explained.
“But, in the end, it was the four key of: us miss a penalty, give a penalty away, score an own goal and have a man sent off. You can be as organised, as athletic and as good on the ball as you like but once you mention those four key points – it doesn’t matter who you’re playing against, let alone an ex-Premier League side.
“Freddie’s not missed the penalty on purpose, Icky (Michael Ihiekwe) hasn’t scored an own goal on purpose and Angus has had a rush of blood. I think we needed a lot of things to go for us to get a result today. The lads did what we asked of them but, unfortunately, those things didn’t go for us.
“When we spoke at half time, we could have been 3-1 up, 3-1 down or it could have been 3-3! I suppose my biggest regret is that there wasn’t a packed crowd to watch it because I thought we played some excellent stuff – as did they, which is expected. I just thought it would have been a really entertaining game to watch. The lack of people here to witness it is a real shame.”
Ladapo helped himself to a first Sky Bet Championship goal in Rotherham United colours to set the Millers on their way but, whilst commending his striker for taking the opportunity, Barker was keen to point to the team effort which resulted in the goal.
“I’m pleased for him (Freddie) but I was more pleased with the fact that it (the goal) came from something we’d worked on. About who was going to release and who was going to go and press. That plan’s been on the board since Monday morning. For us to do that and score a goal from it after three minutes, is pleasing. Hopefully that will give him confidence to keep it going.”
Having had to deal with the heartbreak of conceding a similarly late goal in the recent game with Huddersfield Town, Barker continued to explain that the Millers’ overall start to life in the second tier has seen plenty of positives noted.
“We’ve conceded five goals in five games, which is two penalties, two own goals and a mistake from Icky against Millwall. It’s disappointing,” he added.
“Flo didn’t do it on purpose as he didn’t know he was there. I’m sure most people would have taken a point with five minutes to go having played that long with ten men.”
The assistant boss concluded by talking about a matchday without the physical presence of Paul Warne, who he explains has been in constant touch with the side whilst self-isolating.
“We must have about five Zoom meetings with him a day.
“We had one before the game, at half time and just after the game. Obviously, we’re a major senior member of staff down but he was on the phone to Andy Warrington throughout the game. As can normally happen, you have internet or technical issues but, in fairness, he said he had trust in his staff. I’m gutted for him because he’s a Norwich fan and from Norfolk.
“I asked the players to do it for him before the game, because of how much it meant to him and his family.”