Wembley Verdict: Warrior Wood is daydream believing for Rotherham United

SO attuned is Richard Wood in the art of heading a football that he even does it in his sleep.

Richard Wood celebrates his opening goal of the play-off final (Picture: PA)

Over the years, many a startled team-mate has been left reaching for the light switch on overnight away trips after the Rotherham United captain has leapt up in the night, headed an imaginary ball with a shout and then gone straight back to sleep.

It is not known if Lewis Price, the club’s back-up goalkeeper who has been Wood’s room-mate for much of this season, had an undisturbed night or not ahead of Wembley.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

But, after the Ossett-born defender’s promotion-clinching heroics yesterday, surely no-one in the Rotherham camp will complain again about Wood’s nocturnal habits.

He has earned that grace, and not just for the two goals that ultimately proved too much for Shrewsbury Town.

Wood was quite simply superb. Be it the manner in which he repelled the best that Paul Hurst’s Shrews could throw at the Millers during their one spell on top early in the second half or becoming perhaps the most unlikely goalscoring hero in a play-off final since Peter Shirtliff 31 years ago.

Shirtliff, another Yorkshire-born defender, only netted 15 goals in a career that included more than a decade at Sheffield Wednesday but two of those came on the night Charlton Athletic ended Leeds United’s hopes of clinching promotion via a dramatic 2-1 victory.

Wood’s own double was equally unlikely, even allowing for the fact it was the Millers’ captain who had made the crucial breakthrough in the semi-final second leg victory over Scunthorpe United with a trademark bullet header.

Richard Wood steers home his second and the winning goal for Rotherham (Picture: Getty Images)

No wonder the 15,000 fans who poured down the M1 regard their 32-year-old captain as “magic”.

His double meant a dream ending to what had the potential to be a very difficult season for a Rotherham side still carrying the wounds of a truly horrible relegation from the Championship. Paul Warne, in his first managerial post, deserves huge credit for inspiring such a turnaround. He, though, typically wanted the credit to go to his players and, in particular, Wood.

“He is a warrior,” said the Millers chief. “He is my only player over 30. Then it is Bally (David Ball) at 27 and then a load of young ones.

“I call him the wrecking ball because every time the ball goes in the box, he is prepared to head people to get it in the goal. He is a unique centre half in today’s football.

Alex Rodman of Shrewsbury Town shoots to score his sides equalising goal in the 58th minute to make it 1-1 past Richard Wood and goalkeeper Marek Rodak of Rotherham United (Picture: John Patrick Fletcher/Action Plus via Getty Images)

“Woody is worth more than the sum of his parts. He is worth a lot to me, on and off the pitch. He is a respectful bloke and I love him to death. Basically, he epitomises what myself, as manager, and the club are trying to stand for. It gives me great satisfaction he scored both goals.”

As for the sleep-heading antics of his goalscoring hero, Warne added: “We have had a sleep doctor in to help a few of our players out. Luckily, I don’t share with him. Now I am a manager, I get a room of my own. A perk of the job.”

The closest Wood had been to Wembley before the final was when watching a production of Madagascar at the nearby Arena a few years ago.

Yesterday, he proved to be the footballing lion with the big heart, as underlined by the desire he displayed to open the scoring just after the half-hour mark.

Having twice been manhandled to the ground by Omar Beckles – the first, yielding an early penalty that Ball had saved and the other bizarrely deemed to be legal by referee Robert Jones – Wood was not going to allow himself to be shackled this time around as Joe Newell’s corner floated invitingly across the six-yard box.

Beckles, realising too late that his man was away, tried a last gasp shove in the back but Wood would not be denied as his powerful downward header gave Dean Henderson no chance.

The Shrewsbury goalkeeper, selected by his peers in the PFA League One Team of the Year, had already proved his credentials with that ninth-minute penalty save from Ball.

It was the second time Henderson had denied a Miller from the spot this term, Kieffer Moore having his effort from 12 yards saved at the New York Stadium back in November.

Shrewsbury went on to win that game 2-1 but Wood’s opener settled Rotherham nerves to such an extent that the final really should have been over long before the end of normal time.

Having been pegged back by a delightfully executed training ground move that Alex Rodman finished with aplomb, the Millers regrouped and, eventually, reasserted their control.

Caolan Lavery should have done a lot better after being released by Will Vaulks with just Henderson to beat and the Town defence having gone AWOL, the Sheffield United loanee could only curl his shot wide.

Later, Lavery shot straight at Henderson when again well placed and then Michael Smith, after having seemingly evaded the Shrews goalkeeper, could not get the ball out from under his feet with the net gaping.

Ryan Williams then being denied by a stunning one-handed save from Henderson meant extra-time and, ultimately, Wood’s big moment.

Another pinpoint delivery from Newell, this time from a free-kick, left the Shrewsbury defence scrambling. Wood, again having stolen a march on his marker, slid in and produced a right-foot finish that would have made any striker proud.

It might not have been the type of trademark header that the veteran defender unwittingly practices in his sleep but Rotherham were in dreamland once again.