Rotherham United’s hero Joe Newell revealed he had never taken a penalty in his professional career after his last-kick clincher in the South Yorkshire derby.
“He’s got bigger cojones than me,” said Rotherham manager Paul Warne after seeing his midfield man send Marko Marosi the wrong way from the spot in the ‘103rd’ minute of a dramatic encounter.
Twelve minutes of stoppage-time had been awarded by Geoff Eltringham and the referee decided there was no time for a resumption after a mini pitch invasion by Rotherham fans celebrating an unlikely seventh successive victory.
With striker David Ball having been substituted, Newell was next in line for penalty-taking duties and he coolly stepped up after Marosi had tripped Michael Smith in a vain attempt to gather the loose ball after having blocked from Caolan Lavery to spare the blushes of dithering Joe Wright.
Smith had already drawn the Millers level in stoppage-time with a free header from Newell’s free-kick – Rovers manager Darren Ferguson claiming central defender Andy Boyle had been baulked in trying to get to the striker – and a draw was looking a fair result.
Then substitute Lavery made a last-ditch burst down the left to set up the dramatic denouement after Wright had earlier denied Richie Towell with a clearance over his own bar.
I had made up my mind where it was going, but Tommy Rowe, who I played with at Peterborough, was getting in my ear and saying, ‘You’re going to miss, you’re going to miss and you’re going right.’Rotherham United’s Joe Newell
Wright had been brought on following a sickening injury to Tom Anderson, who was taken to hospital with a badly damaged cheekbone after eight minutes of onfield treatment after Marosi clattered into him in the 48th minute.
The central defender was not the only Rovers player stretchered away, Alfie Beestin suffering ankle ligament damage following a 50-50 challenge with the blameless Richard Wood late on.
So everything that could go wrong for Rovers did after they had driven Rotherham back in the first half when a blunder by another defender, Semi Ajayi, allowed the visitors to take a 39th-minute lead.
John Marquis conjured space for himself and calmly curled home his 10th goal of the season from near the edge of the penalty area after Alex Kiwomya’s pace had caught Ajayi in possession.
A last-ditch block denied Tommy Rowe a glorious opportunity to make it 2-0 after the break and the Rovers midfield man inadvertently played his part in Newell netting the winner.
“I was focused to keep it low and get it on target,” said Newell of his spot-kick. “I have never taken a penalty apart from in youth teams at Peterborough, but I backed myself and it luckily went in.
“I had made up my mind where it was going, but Tommy Rowe, who I played with at Peterborough, was getting in my ear and saying, ‘You’re going to miss, you’re going to miss and you’re going right.’ So I had a look at the ’keeper to see if he was listening.
“I don’t know if he had heard it, but he looked like he was looking at me so I thought, ‘I’m definitely going left now’. I don’t practise them a lot really and if the ’keeper had gone the right way he might have saved it.”
On the decision to award it, Newell said: “We are all used to Smudge running his socks off for us and he got there first and it was a penalty. I was scared – no, I was all right. When we won the penalty I knew it would be me because Bally was off – and he would have missed anyway.
“Bally is first, which is understandable, but I may have a word with the gaffer now after scoring in the last minute. Days like this will stay long in the memory.”
Newell’s agent will also be having a word this week as he opens talks about a new contract for a player who was making his 100th league appearance for the club, whose current deal runs out in the summer and who is showing new levels of consistency.
“I don’t disagree that I haven’t always been consistent but I have always said a big thing for me is my fitness. Earlier in the season I had little niggles and I was sick and did not have any momentum, but I have tried to focus on my fitness and stay in the team. I know that the performances will come if I do that,” he said.
Downbeat Rowe conceded that the penalty decision was fair and continued: “The mood in the camp is one of disappointment.
“The stoppage in play possibly took the momentum out of our game. It was a bad injury, but we stayed with it, but such a late goal is difficult to take.
“We will look at where we went wrong and see what we could have done better. We will analyses it and, as we showed after the Walsall game, we do react well to defeats.
“Our high press helped cause them a lot of problems and my chance came through that, the ball falling nicely to me, but somehow it was blocked. Again, that’s a chance that needs putting away. It is natural to be devastated after a loss like that as no one saw it coming, but you have to pick yourself up, look at the positives and negatives and learn from it.
“Let’s get that reaction next week and see where that leaves us. We need to be switched on mentally as well as physically.”
Rotherham United: Rodak, Emmanuel, Ajayi, Wood (Palmer 90), Mattock; Forde (Williams 78), Towell, Vaulks, Newell; Ball (Lavery 83), Smith. Unused substitutes: Price, Taylor, Yates, Cummings.
Doncaster Rovers: Marosi, Alcock, Anderson (Wright 56), Boyle, Mason; Whiteman; Beestin (Blair 78), Coppinger (Houghton 90), Rowe; Marquis, Kiwomya. Unused substitutes: Lawlor, Baudry, Kongolo, May.
Referee: G Eltringham (Sunderland).