Here were two things as rare as a winter sighting of Paul Warne without his Rotherham United beanie hat.
One hadn’t happened since last October.
The other hadn’t been witnessed since April 9, 2016.
Rotherham clinched an away point. And Richie Smallwood scored an absolute beauty for the Millers.
In their final match on their travels in their 2016/17 Championship campaign, relegated Rotherham finally earned a second point on the road, to go with the one they managed at Ipswich Town more than six months ago.
Smallwood buried his ninth-minute chance from 20 yards.
As a clinical finisher of difficult opportunities, the 26-year-old has always made a very accomplished defensive midfielder.
At Deepdale, however, he did well to control a clearance and even better to send a half-volley hit with his ‘wrong’ left foot flashing past Preston goalkeeper Chris Maxwell.
The last time he was on the Rotherham scoresheet was that memorable spring day when he thumped home a shot from outside the penalty area in front of 3,000 travelling supporters during a 4-0 triumph at MK Dons.
The Millers haven’t won away since.
Preston would claw their way back into the game, yet stopping a run of 14 successive away defeats represented a good afternoon’s work for Warne’s men.
This result didn’t alter a year of depressing away lows for the division’s bottom club. It did at least mean they ended their season of travel sickness on a positive note.
“I am pretty proud of what the lads have put in. I think there are green shoots for next season,” manager Warne said. “One to 11, we were great, and I honestly believe we were more than deserving of a point.”
Smallwood led the charge and Rotherham, organised and spirited, should have been further ahead before Stevie May - once a target for the Millers under former boss Steve Evans and starting his first match in 18 months after injury - curled in a superb 42nd-minute 20-yard equaliser.
Tom Adeyemi bent a shot inches wide just five minutes after the opening goal and, four minutes later, Richard Wood found himself with only the keeper to beat but couldn’t generate enough power on his header.
The worst miss came in time added on at the end of the first half when Tom Adeyemi skied his shot after Jonson Clarke-Harris’s headed knock-back, from Lee Frecklington’s lovely chipped cross.
Adeyemi’s low effort across goal 25 seconds into a second half of few chances brought a good save from Maxwell. Millers keeper Richard O’Donnell matched that by tipping away danger man Aiden McGeady’s 58th-minute intended cross.
Rotherham winger Jon Taylor saw plenty of the ball and troubled Preston with his pace and directness but all too often promising positions were lost by a poor final ball.
All running, no cunning.
That was about it until the dying minutes when Semi Ajayi athletically diverted North End substitute Simon Makienok’s goalbound header away from the net and another Makienik header looped on to the bar.
It was Warne’s first ever away point as a boss, caretaker or full-time.
“Is it?” he said, taken aback when he was informed. “Wow ... bl**dy hell. Well, I’m not proud of that part.”
Roll on 2017/18, when Rotherham should be much more competitive in League One.
But here’s what this term brought.
Twenty-one away league defeats in a single season is the most in the club’s history, exceeding the mark of 18 set three times before the Second World War.
It’s only the second time they have failed to win an away fixture in an entire season, matching the nadir of 1932/33.
Two points is their lowest ever away tally, one less than the three of 1933/34.
Their number of defeats on the road equals the Football League record of 21 set by Leyton Orient in 1994/95.
Sixty-four is the highest number of away goals they have shipped since the 73 of 1929/30.
The big man, Jonson Clarke-Harris, splits opinion among Rotherham fans like no other. No-one questions the striker’s physical attributes, but some wonder whether he will ever consistently make the most of them.
Given his first start since cruciate surgery last summer and looking to earn a new contract, he delivered.
He had the beating of both Preston centre-halves in the air, kept possession effectively, passed well, made a couple of powerful runs and did well to last until the 72nd minute.
There is still some timber to be shed, but this was a display far, far better than anything he produced in the second half of last season when he was a frustrated bit-part player in Neil Warnock’s survival push.
He was gone by the time the game had its final twist.
In stoppage time, Adeyemi, a player Warne would love to hang on to next season, burst towards the goal where Millers followers were gathered, leaving Preston players trailing in his wake.
Was this was the moment for the prolific loan midfield man, with seven goals in his previous 21 appearances, to earn Rotherham their first triumph on their travels?
“I was thinking there might have been a pitch invasion and it would be like Escape to Victory where they pass the players through the fans to the back,” Warne said.
“I was also thinking: ‘If he scores this, the chances of me keeping him are absolutely zero.’ He could have had a hat-trick.”
Pity, on this day of the unexpected, it didn’t fall to Smallwood, one Millers goal in 30.