Millers match verdict: Rotherham United 1 Norwich City 1

Jordan Bowery scores. Picture: James Brailsford
Jordan Bowery scores. Picture: James Brailsford

There are things you can take away from Rotherham United - like three points, just as the Football League did before this crucial game.

And there are other things you just can’t - like pride, passion, desire, effort and the character to fight just at the moment when it would be so easy to wilt.

Bowery celebrates with mascot Miller Bear!

Bowery celebrates with mascot Miller Bear!

With a three-point deduction imposed for fielding an ineligible player pushing them into the relegation mire, they met high-flying Norwich City head on to earn back one of those points which have caused so much debate since the Football League announced their decision late last week.

With Norwich going ahead against them through the best goal seen at AESSEAL New York Stadium this season, they refused to buckle as a baying crowd roared them on at a heaving stadium built for occasions like this.

And with goal alerts beeping away on thousands of mobile phones to warn that Millwall were ahead against Derby and the Millers were heading for the bottom three, they gloriously forced a late equaliser through substitute Jordan Bowery to spark scenes of utter delirium.

Millwall did their bit and let Derby back in for a draw. Now that the dust has settled on a frenetic New York encounter, Rotherham, still one point above the drop zone, know if they beat Reading on another huge home occasion tomorrow night they are safe and manager Steve Evans’ greatest achievement in football will be secured.

Matt Derbyshire misses a golden chance

Matt Derbyshire misses a golden chance

Evans maintains - before and after the deduction - that some people around the Football League don’t want his team in the Championship, but the Millers are on course to outstay their welcome in a league he describes as the fifth biggest in Europe.

“We just feel that some people don’t want us to be around in this big competition - that’s how we all describe it in our dressing room. It’s fantastic for us to be involved in it,” he said.

“The team talk was about the desire to bounce back.We said to the players ‘let’s show desire, let’s show we’re up for a fight if someone wants us to have a fight’.

“You can’t ask for more than those guys have given me today. I thanked them at the end. I said they’re an absolute credit to their profession as footballers of Rotherham United.”

Despair for Derbyshire

Despair for Derbyshire

Norwich, who have surged towards the top of the table since Evans’ fellow Glaswegian, Alex Neil, took charge, started on the front foot and their intricate passing game showed why they came into this match still harbouring realistic hopes of a top-two Championship finish.

Then Canaries striker Lewis Grabban decided to help out his former club. Grabban, craving a move south, was reluctantly sold by Evans in one of his first peices of business as Millers manager, and here the centre-forward tangled with centre-half Craig Morgan in the 26th minute.

Morgan blocked him and referee Mark Brown did well to spot Grabban’s sly dig. He stupidly threw a quick, little punch into the Rotherham’s skipper’s stomach, and the visitors were left sick to theirs as Brown produced the red card.

Loopy Lewis had been a key man in Norwich’s bright start, taking possession and feeding dangerous runners like Wes Hoolahan, Jonny Howson, Nathan Redmond and Bradley Johnson, and Evans’ men, who had looked up for the battle from the first whistle, didn’t need a second invitation to take advantage of his absence.

Danny Ward and Matt Derbyshire had already wasted moments of penalty-area danger before the dismissal, and the best chance of a full-blooded first half was a first-time shot, just wide, taken on the run by Ward after Derbyshire’s superb curling 31st-minute delivery from the right.

Ward put an easier chance wide from a 50th-minute corner before a strike of pure quality dented Millers’ hopes faster than a tribunal verdict.

Nathan Redmond broke and fed Gary Hooper, brought on as a sub as Norwich reshuffled after Grabban’s early exit. The former Celtic man out on the left looked to have an awful lot to do but one touch flicked the ball into the air and the next sent an unstoppable volley crashing past Emi Martinez into the far-right top corner.

But notice how I said Hooper’s moment of magic had dented hopes. Not spirit.

In a response which will define their season if they do manage to stay up, the Millers found strength when they most needed it.

Lee Frecklington shot and brought a good parry from John Ruddy while between them Derbyshire and another sub, Adam Hammill, couldn’t force the follow-up home.

Derbyshire looped a header on to the bar, then Frecklington was just over on the volley from the edge of the area.

Before both of those, Derbyshire, who has been in such deadly form in 2015, managed arguably the miss of the season. Bowery’s touch in the 73rd-minute was Premier-League class as he brought down Martinez’s long kick and he raced to the byline to deliver the perfect pull-back.

The crowd were already starting to celebrate before Derbyshire, in front of a completely open goal, put the intended tap-in wide.

Memo to Matt: Please remember that since January you’re one of the most dangerous strikers in the Championship, with eight goals scored at the rate of almost one every two games, not the player who couldn’t buy a Championship strike for five months before then. Memo over.

Norwich were now happy to waste time, but Evans was having none of it. His dash down the touchline to retrieve a ball the Canaries had little interest in fetching back wasn’t quite Gareth Bale v Barcelona’s Marc Bartra, but it summed up the Millers’ unbending will against a quality team unbeaten away from home since December 28.

“We missed a couple of chances and the message coming on from me was ‘never stop, never stop’,” he said.

With just four minutes of normal time remaining, his team earned their reward. Hammill doggedly forced his way to the byline on the left and his cross was met by Bowery who headed back across goal into the net.

The 23-year-old is an endearingly shy bloke and preferred to do his interviews afterwards in the corridors of New York rather than face the banks of seats in the press room, but there was nothing timid about his leap and the power of his connection to force the comeback.

Not quite in Hooper’s class, but a goal the Millers so richly deserved and so, so important. The wild celebrations from players and fans alike bore testimony to just how significant it might turn out to be.

Still the Millers went for it. Hammill bent a free-kick just wide, Frecklington burst forward and drove his shot off target and Derbyshire was a whisker away from connecting close in with a header as he flung himself at the ball.

Phew. What an afternoon.

All eyes and thoughts now turn to tomorrow night and the match against a Reading side with one win in their last 10 league outings.

Saturday night saw the Millers players attending the club’s annual awards night, but the final home game of the season was already looming large in Evans’ thoughts.

“We’ve got a club function tonight, but the boys will be excused around 10pm,” he said inside New York at Saturday tea-time. “They’re all going back to our hotel. We’ll train here in the morning. I said to them that the preparation for Tuesday - and for next Saturday - begins today.

“We’ve got a very responsive chairman. I went to him in the week and said ‘listen, we should be wrapping up these boys on Saturday night, win lose or draw’. And of course it was an immediate ‘yes’.

“We’ll prepare properly. They’ll be tired. We’ve got to rehydrate them, we’ve got to make sure they’re fuelled properly with some decent food. We’ll make sure they do a little stretch in the morning and have a restful time and we’ll get their energy levels back for Tuesday.”

And he issued an appeal to fans to help them over the line after a season spent defying the odds, culminating in last Friday’s FL ruling and Saturday’s emphatic response.

“We need the four sides full of Millers fans. This is a rallying call from me, almost a plea really,” he said. “Come out and make sure we’re part of this wonderful competition next season.”

And just to reassure any supporters reading this who are nervous of disposition as the great prize potentially beckons … I have it on good authority that every player who is contributing so valiantly to the Millers’ cause is eligible to play!

Goals: Hooper 59 (Norwich); Bowery 86 (Rotherham).

Rotherham United (4-4-2): Martinez 7; Hunt 7, Broadfoot 8, Morgan 8, Lafferty 7; Frecklington 7, Smallwood 8, Arnason 8, Pringle 6 (Hammill 63, 6); Derbyshire 6, Ward 6 (Bowery 69, 7). Subs not used: Collin, Wood, Green, Wilson, Clarke-Harris.

Norwich City (4-1-4-1): Ruddy 7; Martin 6, Bennett 6, Bassong 6, Olsson 6; Dorrans 7; Howson 7, Hoolahan 7 (Hooper 33, 7), Johnson 6, Redmond 8 (Jerome 77); Grabban 5. Subs not used: Rudd, Cuellar, E Bennett, O’Neil, Odjidja-Ofoe.

Manager’s view - Steve Evans: “I think it was a stunning performance. We must go away very frustrated. I know our supporters will. I counted five simple, simple chances we didn’t put away. But that happens in football. They’ve scored an absolutely stunning goal. We had a right go. We gave it everything we had, and credit to my players, every one of them. You have to have desire and passion and commitment in your dressing room to come back from a goal like that. We’ll come back here again on Tuesday and try to keep ourselves in this division despite lot of people not wanting us around.”

Manager’s view - Alex Neil: “I’m disappointed. After leading 1-0 with five minutes to go, I fully expected us to see the game out. We managed to get the lead against the odds, and the boys stuck to their task in the game, but the result is difficult to take. Rotherham are a difficult side to play against. They get at you and they work hard. I haven’t looked at the sending off yet, but if Lewis is deemed to be guilty then obviously that’s something we’ll deal with, and I will be extremely disappointed if that is the case. That will get taken care of - it will be an internal matter for the club to deal with, and I will be speaking to Lewis.”

Hero: Jordan Bowery. You could make a collective case for all 13 players who featured such was the team effort, but Bowery was brought on to change the match and score, and he did. Could have changed the season, let alone this one game.

Key moment: He was on the pitch for only 26 minutes, but he’s hogging the limelight. Jordan Bowery had done well since coming off the bench and his 86th-minute equaliser earned a point which could prove vital to the Millers’ quest for Championship safety. Lewis Grabban’s 26th-minute dismissal didn’t half help as well.

Viewpoint: Afternoons like this are why I love football. Millwall winning, Millers losing, doom and gloom. A few minutes later, Millwall drawing, Millers back in it, survival now possibly just one day away. Crazy. Brilliant.

Ref watch: Mark Brown (East Yorkshire). Got a few bits wrong and angered both sets of fans at times, but did a pretty decent job overall. Not always helped by his assistants. Was perfectly positioned to spot the Lewis Grabban punch. A lot of people in the stadium missed that.

Attendance: 11,498 (2,327).