New Year. Resolution.
The team that couldn’t stop winning at the end of 2017 simply refused to be beaten at the start of 2018.
Rotherham United entered the Janaury 1 contest on the back of three straight festive-season League One wins but trailed in the dying seconds to a goal by a Blackburn Rovers side now unbeaten in 18 games.
Millers bodies were wilting in the rain in their fourth match in nine days. It looked a game too far. But when legs are going, it’s time for heart.
Paul Warne’s men never gave up, and there was David Ball popping up gloriously at the back post in the 89th minute to guide home the equaliser their spirit thoroughly deserved.
“The second half had a bit of everything,” Warne said. “It was a rainy day in Yorkshire. It was end to end. The lads had a real go.”
After being second best in the first half, third-placed Blackburn took the lead in the 61st minute through Bradley Dack.
Warne made attacking substitutions and threw centre-half Semi Ajayi up front. Rotherham, without injured captain Lee Frecklington, kept going and going.
“We just didn’t have enough physical presence up front after the break,” the manager said. “I changed it and brought on Jonno (Jonson Clarke-Harris) and Newelly (Joe Newell) and immediately we looked more dangerous.
“The fans got behind us, and the changes paid off. I’m proud to be the manager of this team. The fans can go home knowing the players are doing their best for the club.”
Starting life without departed 13-goal striker Kieffer Moore, the Millers, full of energy and fizz, began well against their high-flying opponents and were close to taking the lead in the 10th minute.
Will Vaulks latched on to the ball 25 yards from goal and his vicious, skidding shot brought a superb diving save from David Raya.
Amazing Rotherham defending kept out Blackburn in the 25th minute. Three, maybe four, times the visitors looked sure to score in a mad goalmouth scramble but a combination of Marek Rodak saves and brave blocks saw the home side emerge unscathed.
The Millers were on top and two minutes later Josh Emmanuel made a surging break down the right. His delivery matched the quality of his 50-yard run but Ball, arriving at the near post, headed just wide.
Derrick Williams stung Rodak’s hands from the edge of the area not long afterwards, then Ball was again close to the opener, curling a 38th-minute effort wide after being freed by a wonderfully-deft Richie Towell reverse pass.
Rovers, the better side at the start of the second period, found a way through in the 66th minute as they worked Dack clear and the midfield man never looked like missing as he sent an emphatic finish past Rodak.
The killer pass had come from Millers old boy Richie Smallwood, making his first return to AESSEAL New York Stadium since his summer switch to Ewood Park.
Time was almost up when Anthony Forde swung in a left-flank corner, Will Vaulks headed towards goal and Ball made no mistake. Six goals in eight matches for the centre-forward. That’s Kieffer time!
Only one team was going to win it in five minutes of time added on as seventh-placed Rotherham - four wins and two draws from their last six matches - kept up the pressure.
“I thought we might have nicked another at the end,” said Warne after watching Towell’s 93rd-minute piledriver clear the bar. “We showed endeavour. Spirit. Desire. It’s a really happy dressing room at the moment. The lads are exhausted.”
With the rain still teeming down, the team came off to a standing ovation as an appropriate song played over the New York PA system.
‘Let’s Stick Together’.
Rotherham (4-4-2): Rodak; Emmanuel, Ajayi, Wood (Ihiekwe 83), Mattock; Forde, Towell, Vaulks, Williams (Newell 59); Ball, Yates (Clarke-Harris 59). Subs not used: O’Donnell, Purrington, Cummings, Wiles.
Blackburn (4-2-3-1): Raya; Caddis (Nyambe 64), Downing, Mulgrew, Williams; Smallwood, Evans; Bennett, Dack, Conway (Samuel 64); Graham (Ward 85). Subs not used: Leutwiler, Whittingham, Tomlinson, Butterworth.
Goals: Ball 89 (Rotherham); Dack 61 (Blackburn).
Referee: Martin Coy (Durham).
Attendance: 9,347 (1,821).