As far as Wembley debuts go, Richard Wood pretty much nailed it. Having never before stepped out at the national stadium, the Rotherham captain found the ideal occasion to score two goals in a game for the first time in his career.
The defender’s unprecedented contribution at the age of 32 was sufficient to see off Shrewsbury after extra-time and ensure another first: all three teams relegated from the Championship went back up straight away.
Rotherham join Wigan and Blackburn in dipping their toe into League One and removing it swiftly. Shrewsbury are all too familiar with the deep waters of the lower leagues and it is particular cruel they were unable to end their 29-year wait to return to the second tier.
Rotherham lift the Football League One play-off trophy after beating Shrewsbury 2-1 (AET)
Rotherham players celebrate as the full-time whistle blows and they return to Championship
Captain Richard Woods stepped up to score the winner for Rotherham in extra-time
Wood slid in to knock the ball pas Dean Henderson as he grabbed his second of the match
Wood and his team-mates celebrate after he scored the winning goal in the 103rd minute
Favourites for relegation at the start of the campaign, Paul Hurst’s side began with a 15-game unbeaten streak, were in the automatic places for many weeks, and finished eight points ahead of Rotherham in the table. But having lost here in April’s EFL Trophy final, they again could not do enough when the big stage commanded.
There is a certain irony to the identity of the side that has denied Hurst. He played almost his entire career at Rotherham, more than 430 matches, and was for six years a teammate to Paul Warne, who was in the opposite dugout.
Warne was with Rotherham as caretaker manager on their fall last season, thrust somewhat reluctantly into the spotlight, so this was personal as well as collective redemption.
‘It was tough last year, I questioned myself no end,’ admitted Warne, 45. ‘It was the chairman who convinced me I had the attributes to be a manager. In the summer I recruited staff and players I wanted and we put a smile on people’s faces.’
The penalty came within 10 minutes but Dean Henderson was able to save David Ball’s shot
Shrewsbury were able to keep the score 0-0 in the early stages after Henderson’s save
Shrewsbury Town players surround the referee after he awarded a penalty against them
Rotherham: Rodak, Emmanuel, Ajayi, Wood, Mattock, Towell, Vaulks, Taylor, Ball, Newell, Smith
Subs: Forde, Palmer, Price, Purrington, Williams, Cummings, Lavery.
Shrewsbury: Henderson, Bolton, Nsiala, Sadler, Beckles, Godfrey, Whalley, Bryn Morris, Nolan, Rodman, Carlton Morris.
Subs: Riley, Lowe, Brown, John-Lewis, MacGillivray, Jones, Payne.
Referee: Robert Jones (Merseyside)
A good friend to his defeated counterpart, Warne admitted slightly mixed emotions. ‘I love Hursty,’ he said. ‘I don’t feel too victorious about it.’ Warne was clearer on his match-winner, who he calls ‘the wrecking ball’. ‘I looked at his wife when he scored the second and she was in complete shock.’
Warne’s rolling contract will click on into next year, while Hurst’s future is less clear. Ipswich have been heavily linked with the 43-year-old.
‘That’s been happening for quite a bit of the season,’ Hurst said. ‘I can’t stop what people say. At this moment all I’m concerned about is lifting those players who are naturally disappointed. There are tears.’
Rotherham earned victory, taking the initiative and maintaining momentum. They were awarded a penalty by referee Rob Jones in the eighth minute when Omar Beckles wrapped his arm round the neck of Wood.
Richard Wood headed Rotherham in front before half-time from a corner
Wood reels away to celebrate after he got the run on Omar Beckles who watches on in despair
Emotions ran high as Rotherham took the lead in the first-half of the final at Wembley
Alex Rodman scored a crucial equaliser for Shrewsbury as he lifted the ball over the ‘keeper
It was a well worked free-kick from the edge of the area that put Rodman through on goal
The players celebrate after the training ground routine keeps them in the game in second-half
But Dean Henderson, the 21-year-old on loan from Manchester United, went the right way and punched David Ball’s spot kick to safety.
The Beckles-Wood duel at set pieces continued to be an intriguing battle and on two further occasions the Shrewsbury defender risked punishment for manhandling Rotherham’s captain.
In the 33rd minute we discovered why he had been paying such close attention. This time Beckles stood off, enabling Wood to get a running jump, and when Joe Newell’s corner curled into the air above the six yard box the Rotherham player was free to head in.
Rotherham boss Paul Warne (left) and Shrewsbury’s Paul Hurst bark orders from the touchline
Rotherham’s goalkeeper Marek Rodak punches clear under pressure during physical game
Shrewsbury finally turned up after the break and were level in the 58th minute through an ingenious free-kick routine. With Rotherham expecting a high ball into the box, Shaun Walley instead went low to Mat Sadler, who had peeled away from the scrum. Sadler touched the ball on to slip in Alex Rodman and a poked finish followed.
Twice Rotherham wasted opportunities when clean through and in the fifth minute of stoppage time Henderson summoned a save that bore comparison to David de Gea. Ryan Williams drove into the box and snapped fierce shot that was heading for the top corner until Henderson diverted wide with one hand.
But Henderson was helpless on 103 minutes as the same combination from Rotherham’s opening goal struck again. This time Newell delivered a deep free-kick and ghosting in round the back was Wood, who steered in a half-volley off the post.
Henderson pulled off another fantastic save in stoppage time to take the final to extra-time
Shrewsbury fans throw balloons in their colours around during a hot day at Wembley
Shrewsbury’s Aristote Nsiala slides in on Rotherham’s Michael Smith (left) during the match