It was as if the fates were having one final cruel, mocking dig at the shattered Rotherham United manager’s expense.
After two debilitating bouts of Covid, rough refereeing calls, a crippling schedule – Saturday was the Millers’ 12th game in 36 days – and bitter late concessions, Cardiff’s Marlon Pack inflicted the last brutal blow to score the 88th-minute leveller which relegated Rotherham and typically the elements were not kind after.
Pack’s moment broke a group of good men who deserved better.
Warne, choked with emotion, said: “Our performance was excellent and deserved a win. But, you know, for whatever reason it wasn’t to be...
“I said to them after the game, I stand here proud to be their manager and it has been an honour to watch them play. I don’t know what more all the lads can do. In a few days, I might be able to look at it with more pride. At the moment, I am just hurting really.
“I am really hollow. I just feel for the lads, my captain, the owner and the fans and I feel for everyone. To concede so late on was an absolute solar-plexus blow.
“But we had more than enough chances to win two games. Maybe that is a microcosm of our season.
“We are well-organised, fit, determined and together, but we just lack a little bit of cutting edge in the final third.”
A solid individual for whom perspective is always close to hand, Warne showed a touch of real class at a low point in the day after Cardiff had scored to hug popular Bluebirds defender Sol Bamba and wish him well when he came on in stoppage time. It was Bamba’s first appearance after being diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin lymphoma in January and undergoing chemotherapy.
That puts into context what happens on a football field as the Millers manager would be the first to acknowledge.
Warne, in time, will move on from the hard on-pitch events of Saturday. But in the here and now, it will undeniably hurt.
Before kick-off, the rousing sounds of ‘Men of Harlech’ greeted both sets of players and the Millers certainly came out with ‘tongues of fire shouting.’
The brave were looking to strike and they did that through Lewis Wing’s delectable eighth-minute volley. Warne elected not to celebrate and deep down, he probably feared what was coming, given such a bruising season.
But here, there was hope and plenty of it in a redoubtable first half in which the Millers produced a textbook tactical performance and totally dominated, minus one telling facet, sadly.
As is their wont, the chances that were passed up to add to their lead were frequent. This was Barnsley away again.
A goalbound shot from Matt Crooks – who emptied the tank alongside every manjack of the visiting line-up – was blocked by Aden Flint, and an excellent inswinging corner from Ryan Giles found Richard Wood at just his sort of range at the far post, but he headed off target.
The head-in-hands reaction of Crooks after steering a glaring chance wide of the gaping goal after being tidily set up by the workaholic Michael Smith told a story later in the half. It would be replicated by others later on.
All the while, the inescapable feeling gnawing away inside was that the Millers would pay a heavy toll down the line for the misses – and so they did.
Rotherham – with the decision by Warne to throw in a curve ball and hand Derby loanee Florian Jozefzoon a first start since March 3 bearing fruit – would spurn further good opportunities when Angus MacDonald’s point-blank effort was kept out by Dillon Phillips and Smith was a whisker away with a low drive.
This was all against a Cardiff side who were the third best team in the Championship in terms of chances converted.
United trashed that particular statistic, but failed to seal the outcome of a game which should have been over at half-time.
The score at Derby was favourable – as it was for a fair chunk of the second half. But Rotherham were walking a tightrope which they need not have been.
After a performance that was ‘meek and mild’ in the first period, according to an annoyed Mick McCarthy, Cardiff – entitled to be relieved at only being one goal behind – took the hint and switched to 4-3-3 and were better.
Rotherham, whose work-rate was colossal with Wood and MacDonald producing sterling contributions as the clock ticked down, still conjured some big moments.
The biggest came for Wing, whose fine opener will unfortunately share prominence with a big miss in the final quarter.
Latching onto Crooks’s cut-back, the glory moment beckoned in front of goal, but he steered his effort wide. Soon after, a curler flew inches off target.
Then, the walls came tumbling down. Joe Ralls’s ball forward was only half-cleared and Pack produced an ice-cool low finish past the unsighted Jamal Blackman. Devastating.
Support The Yorkshire Post and become a subscriber today. Your subscription will help us to continue to bring quality news to the people of Yorkshire. In return, you’ll see fewer ads on site, get free access to our app and receive exclusive members-only offers. Click HERE to subscribe.