Charlton manager Bob Peeters was the picture of agitation on the touchline.
His side, unbeaten in the Championship and in fifth place at the start of play, were being comprehensively taken apart by Rotherham United in the second half.
Trailing to a Johann Berg Gudmundsson goal, the Millers had launched wave after wave of attacks and Luciano Becchio’s first goal for the club meant the home side were back in the game and pressing for the winner.
Peeters was a worried man. He looked at his watch. Surely time was almost up for his reeling side.
Seventy-eight minutes. With time added on, still more than a quarter of an hour for them to endure.
That’s the demolition job Rotherham did on one of the division’s form sides.
Two minutes later, uproar. Johnnie Jackson seemed to handle the ball in the area and was this the chance for Steve Evans’ men to put the seal on their fine work? New York bayed for the spot-kick. No penalty.
Evans, delighted with his team’s performance but seething at the referee’s decision, summed it up with one of the quotes of the season.
“Listen, he’s almost caught it, put it up his jumper and looked as fat as me. That’s how bad it is.”
He added: “I go home once again frustrated by a referee. If that’s not a penalty, we should give the game up. The referee’s decision is shocking.
“We should have an opportunity to shoot from the spot to win the game. It doesn’t mean you’re taking the three points but it gives you a big opportunity.
“It’s a disgraceful decision by an experienced referee.
“He’s an honest man. If he’s not stuck behind players - which is the only excuse he can give himself - then, dear me, I don’t know what’s happening to football when you can’t get decisions like that.
“Seriously, if we’re not getting penalties like this we should rewrite the rulebook and say when you play against Rotherham in the Championship then they don’t get penalties.”
Becchio was calmer but just as firm in his opinion.
“100 per cent penalty,” he said.
Agonisingly, that second goal which would have made it a perfect New York Stadium day didn’t arrive. But this was an afternoon of huge encouragement for the Millers.
Their play after the break was high-tempo but measured and dripping with danger. They didn’t give Charlton a second on the ball, were sound at the back, kept possession well and were full of attacking thrust and invention. Proper Championship football.
It says everything that the home fans at New York Stadium stood and applauded them off the pitch at the end.
In that pulsating second half, Lee Frecklington shot and would have done better had Anthony Wordsworth’s lay-off been a touch sharper, Paul Taylor missed a great chance from close in, blazing over after Frazer Richardson’s cross and Jordan Bowery’s header across goal, and Bowery had a tap-in ruled out by a marginal but correct offside decision after Taylor’s cross from the left.
In that thrilling second period, Frecklington shot over, again not helped by Wordsworth’s assist, Ben Pringle unloaded from the edge of the area and saw his shot blocked and Bowery saw his header from a corner saved.
In those exciting 50 minutes after the break, Kari Arnason headed over from another flag-kick and Joe Skarz, having also nearly scored in the first half, went close with a header, bringing a fine save from Stephen Henderson.
Other than an Andre Bikey header over, Charlton posed no second-half threat until the 86th-minute when Scott Loach gathered Frederic Bulot’s cross-shot at the second attempt on his goalline.
Richie Smallwood set the tone right from the first few seconds of the game, sliding in with determination on the edge of the away penalty area to win the tackle and put the visitors on the back foot.
Rotherham were the better side in the opening 20 minutes, but the officials missed a Rhoys Wiggins foul on Paul Green as the Millers attacked down the right and seconds later they were behind.
Icelandic midfielder Johann Berg Gudmundsson, a summer transfer target of the Millers, picked up the ball and struck a low 22-yarder into the left-hand corner.
Gud goal, and just a touch of Gud fortune about it as well as the ball took a deflection off the foot of Green as the midfield man tried to make the tackle.
Three shots at the end of the first half were a warning of Charlton’s menace, but they turned out to be a final flurry rather than a sign of things to come.
Frecklington, on for Smallwood at half-time, needed just 14 seconds to get in his first shot, and he added to the home side’s armoury with his workrate, slick prompting and attacking instinct.
Pringle, on for Taylor, was a positive malingerer in comparison, needing a whole minute after his introduction before teeing up Becchio to score after the loan striker had fed him on the left wing.
This was Preston-play-off Pringle on show. It was his first chance to prove himself after being dropped at Bolton in midweek and he took it. Playing on the left, he bristled with urgency and showed an appetite for the battle to go with his customary quality on the ball.
Words must have been said to Bowery at half-time because the big frontman was a difficult customer in the second half, timing his runs well, using his pace to get on to the ball and being an all-round more physical presence.
He could learn much from Becchio’s attitude as the new boy grabbed his first Millers goal right in front of an ecstatic North Stand. Pringle’s beauty of a cross was heading right for Bowery’s head but in flew the Argentine with aggression and intent to power home the header himself.
Just look at the picture which goes with this report of the ball almost welded to Becchio’s head at the moment of impact. His determination sent Bowery sprawling and I’m certain he’d have headed his teammate into the net as well if he’d had to.
A goalscorer’s goal, capping the most promising cameo so far from the deadline-day signing.
He admitted he still has work to do on his fitness, but there were signs - a little bit of clever movement here, a touch of vision there - of what might be to come.
Evans added: “We’ve played against a good club today. But we should really be taking the three points given our second-half performance. I think their goalkeeper gets their Man of the Match by some distance.
“We dominated until they scored their goal. It was a bit of a deflection off the toe of a player so we feel a little bit hard done by.
“The second half is a complete annihilation of Charlton. It’s chance after chance. Becchio gets a goal, which is overall play and hard work deserved.
“Charlton are a quality side with quality players and they’re very well organised but today they’ve got balaclavas on on their way home with a point. They’re a good team. They’ve spent a lot of money. They’ve got a budget that’s four or five times ours so they should have good players. We’ve torn them to shreds in the second half, and I feel for my players.”
There was no let-up from the home side. Well past the 90-minute mark, they were still at it, Frecklington curling an effort with his wrong foot on to the roof of the net and then Skarz heading over from Richardson’s cross
As the pace never ebbed, there was more frantic checking of his timepiece from Peeters before the referee finally put him out of his misery.
He, and everyone else, knew this had been the Millers’ hour.
Hero: Non-stop Paul Green was superb in midfield but his performancre was just shaded by Kari Arnason at the back. Strong defending and continually bringing the ball out of defence to set up attacks. What a touch for a centre-half. Imperious.
Key moment: Just ask Steve Evans. He’ll tell you all about the 80th-minute penalty decision. Some television pundits said ‘no’. Looked one to me when I first saw it, but difficult to say after watching replays. It would probably have brought the win the Millers completely deserved.
Viewpoint: If anyone had any doubts about the Millers’ ability at Championship level then this second-half performance against one of the division’s play-off contenders banished them.
Manager’s view: Steve Evans: “Seriously, if we’re not getting penalties like this we should rewrite the rulebook and say when you play against Rotherham in the Championship then they don’t get penalties. I go away absolutely ecstatic with the second-half performance. We played with energy and a passion.”
Manager’s view: Bob Peeters: “I think first half, except for the first 10 minutes, we controlled the game. We were leading 1-0 but we knew they were going to make it physical second half. They put the long ball in early with a lot of tall guys but I think we didn’t give anything away until the goal. Then they grew in confidence and at that moment we need to hold on to get the result.”
Referee watch: Darren Deadman (Hertfordshire): May or may not have got the penalty decision right. Missed the foul on Paul Green just before Charlton scored and after the most blatant of pushes on Luciano Becchio in the 78th minute gave the free-kick the other way. It’s fair to say he’s had better days.
Rotherham United: Loach 7, Richardson 8, Morgan 8, Arnason 9, Skarz 7, Wordsworth 6, Green 9, Smallwood 7 (Frecklington H-T, 8), Taylor 6 (Pringle 68, 7), Revell 7 (Becchio 39, 7), Bowery 6. Subs unused: Collin, Broadfoot, Derbyshire, Clarke-Harris.
Charlton Athletic: Henderson 7; Jackson 6, Bikey 7, Berg Gudmundsson (Harriott 80) 7, Moussa 5 (Bulot 59, 6), Vetokele 5, Wiggins 6, Buyens 7, Solly 6, Cousins (Fox 93) 6, Ben Haim 7. Subs: Pope, Wilson, Morrison, Tucudean.
Attendance: 9,620 (1,106).