Derby verdict: Rotherham United 2 Sheffield Wednesday 3

Ben Pringle celebrates his goal. Pictures: Steve Ellis
Ben Pringle celebrates his goal. Pictures: Steve Ellis
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The derby duel was delayed, a packed house forced to wait 15 minutes for hostilities to commence.

Tannoy instructions to evacuate the stadium proved to be false, just a pre-recorded default message booming out after being triggered by someone letting off a “pyrotechnic” in the home North Stand.

Whatever kind of pyrotechnic it was, it had nothing on the fireworks that were to follow.

“A situation has arisen,” it was announced over the AESSEAL New York Stadium public-address system.

Too right it had by the end of the match, four goals in 11 crazy, rollercoaster, gut-wrenching minutes bringing the kind of finale that has surely never been seen before in the long history of this particular South Yorkshire rivalry.

On 86 minutes the Owls had their draw, Caolan Lavery’s header cancelling out Ben Pringle’s 56th-minute opener. Seconds later, Rotherham had the win they so desperately wanted in their Championship survival fight as substitute Jordan Bowery beat Keiren Westwood at his near post.

Twelfth-placed Wednesday, with nothing to play for but playing for everything, fought back in seven minutes of time added on. 90 plus two and Stuart Gray’s men had their point again as Atdhe Nuhiu’s header crashed past debutant goalkeeper Emi Martinez. 90 plus seven and Kieran Lee strode unbelievably through the Millers defence to beat Martinez and ignite metaphorical rockets, bangers and multishot barrages among the delirious 1,210 travelling Owls faithful.

Eight minutes 25 seconds, said Rotherham boss Steve Evans pointedly afterwards, knowing a massive chance for his side to go well clear of the drop zone had just blown up in their faces.

Said Gray: “People will be talking about that last five minutes for years and years. The Sheffield Wednesday fans will go home tonight and can turn around and say ‘I was there’.

“It doesn’t surprise you in football. Man United did it in the European Cup Final. You’ve got to keep going. It’s a good win and the celebrations at the end were great.

“It’s a nice feeling. I don’t get too carried away with the wins and I don’t get too carried with defeats. But I will enjoy a glass of wine tonight. We showed great character.”

Countered Evans, whose team are now five points above third-from-bottom Wigan Athletic instead of eight: “It’s very hard to take. For very long spells we’ve outplayed, outworked and dominated derby opponents. Our defending is poor for each of their goals. We’re down because we didn’t deserve it.

“Wigan will look at things in the 92/93rd minute with our late kick-off and think Rotherham have only drawn and then they hear we’ve got beat. They get a boost, don’t they, with us conceding those two late goals.

“But nobody is going to help us, are they? It’s not about what Wigan or anyone else does. It’s only about what we do. We’ll get the usual drivel locally about how great they were, but there was only one team in it today. Unfortunately, that team lost.”

The first half had been long on effort but short on quality, Westwood producing a good save and a superb one to deny Derbyshire in the fifth and 37th minutes respectively, while Martinez had to react smartly to keep out Lewis McGugan’s 10th-minute shot as the Owls midfielder jinked his way into the penalty area.

Because this was a derby, because Rotherham have a less-than-affectionate nickname for their rivals across the M1, because they were selling for less than £3 on internet fans forums, inflatable pink farmyard animals were dotted around the home areas of the ground.

One of them, I’m sure by chance and not intent, had found its way on to the roof of the Millers dugout and when Ben Pringle - still celebrated in the town for his goal against Wednesday in the Capital One Cup clash 19 months ago - fired home the opener with the help of a deflection four minutes short of the hour mark, there it was, stood proudly on all fours, bouncing about from time to time in the wind, glinting slightly in the weak spring sun.

For the next 20 minutes the home side, with former Owls loanee Martinez and right-sided midfielder Lawrie Wilson making impressive debuts, were in control and could have added to their lead.

Right-back Jack Hunt, declared fit after a midweek injury at Nottingham Forest and the target of some rough stuff from Wednesday, almost scored the NYS goal of the season in the 64th minute when his fierce 18-yard shot after a mazy 60-yard run was just wide and Matt Derbyshire was close at the second attempt when he found acres of space at the back post eight minutes later.

Gray had to do something, and he did. The man who certainly knows how to set up a team defensively but has endured criticism all season for the lack of goals threw on two more attackers, Stevie May and Chris Maguire, to work with Caolan Lavery, who had been pitched into the battle 15 minutes earlier, and Nuhiu.

How it lit the blue touch paper.

McGugan, the most influential player on the pitch, had dropped deeper and when he beat Derbyshire far too easily in the right-hand corner, right in front of the Owls fans, his cross was met by the head of Lavery and the game was well and truly on again.

But Rotherham came straight back and Gray reckoned the next touch of the ball one of his players had was Westwood picking it out of the net, as Bowery, on the pitch for only four minutes, cut in from the left and a shot making up in precision for what it lacked in power found its way past the keeper’s right hand. It’s not only the Owls head coach who can make telling substitutions.

Some people were on the pitch. Maybe they thought it was all over. Evans couldn’t contain his joy and bounded out of his technical area on to the playing surface in total delight.

But that was nothing compared to the away celebrations when the winner went in 10 - perhaps 11 - minutes later, the entire Wednesday bench evacuating the dugout, running and bouncing like demented blue-tracksuited firecrackers towards the South Stand to share the moment with their ecstatic supporters.

Lee had surged through the middle on to May’s feed to sweep the ball home for an improbable, almost impossible win while the away fans were still celebrating Nuhiu’s leveller, a thumping header from a McGugan free-kick from the left after Hunt had needlessly chopped down Maguire.

“We give a sloppy goal away with Matt Derbyshire not tackling somebody on the touchline, we get back in front and then we give two very, very sloppy goals away,” lamented Evans.

“You can’t get wrong side from a free-kick, and then we don’t match a runner. If you do that you get punished. I’d love to be in a derby where I’m 2-1 down and somebody adds seven minutes from somewhere. But the referee is not to blame. He could have added 15 minutes. You have to deal with it. It’s quite hard to take.”

Said Gray: “If you’re going to put subs on they have to have an impact. Credit to the three lads who went on, they have had a big impact. It probably just put Rotherham on the back foot. They went a little bit deeper and allowed my full-backs to get forward.

“When we put the three subs on I just felt it opened the game up for us. In the last 10 minutes it looked like we were the only team going to score.”

Gray’s great gamble had worked. So sweet for the Owls who have endured last-gasp Hillsborough heartache in the fairly recent past at the hands of Rotherham through Darren Garner and Richie Barker whose names are writ large in Millers folklore as a result.

Putting local rivalries to one side, defeat mattered more to Rotherham in the great scheme of things than victory did to Wednesday.

The Owls, now on 53 points, have targeted 60 for the season but aren’t going up or down.

Wigan equalised in the dying second at home to Bolton, which means that in the 89th minute of both these matches the Millers were notionally nine points clear of their main opponents in the push for second-tier safety.

The gap is now almost half that. Amazing how a league campaign of 46 matches and nine months can swing so dramatically in less than 10 minutes. All season Evans has talked of the fine margins at this level.

At the end, amid the blue-and-white partying, I looked for that little bouncing, glinting, pink object on the home dugout roof only to find it was no longer there.

I checked again and there it was, lying in forlorn Millers symbolism at the side of the pitch.

Flat and completely deflated.

Rotherham United (4-4-2): Martinez 7; Hunt 7, Broadfoot 7, Morgan 7, Lafferty 7; Wilson 7, Smallwood 6, Frecklington 6, Pringle 5, Sammon 5 (Bowery 84), Derbyshire 5 (Milsom 90). Subs not used: Collin, Brindley, Green, Newton, Yates.

Sheffield Wednesday (4-5-1): Westwood 7; Vermijl 5, Lees 7, Dielna 6, Mattock 5; Isgrove 5(Lavery 58, 7), Lee 6, McGugan 8, Hutchinson 6 (Maguire 73), Helan 5 (May 73); Nuhiu 6. Subs not used: Kirkland, Buxton, Maguire, Melo, Maghoma.

Manager’s view - Steve Evans: “Derbies are always going to be intense for the first 20 minutes/half an hour and this one was like that. I think that, second half, we dominated for long spells. We’ve always said that concentration runs for the length off a game and if you switch off you get punished. There’s no-one to blame bar ourselves tonight. We have to defend much better than that if we want to win a football match.

Manager’s view - Stuart Gray: “When Kieran went through I just thought ‘hit the target’. It was fantastic he managed to do that. I would imagine Kieran put some unbelievable miles in, but it’s having that composure. Our delivery wasn’t up to scratch in the first half. We didn’t enough win second balls in the first half.”

Hero: Emi Martinez and Lawrie Wilson did well on their Millers debuts, but Lewis McGugan - a player admired by, and praised beforehand, by Rotherham boss Steve Evans - created two goals and was behind most of Wednesday’s best play.

Key moment: The 73rd minute when Owls head coach Stuart Gray boldly sent on two attackers in Stevie May and Chris Maguire. Until then Rotherham were the better team in the second half and looking well set for victory.

Viewpoint: The international break comes at a good time for the Millers who didn’t deserve to lose and certainly not in such devastating circumstances. They will have time to lick their wounds and regroup ahead of the all-important seven-match run-in.

Ref watch: Oliver Langford (West Midlands). Seemed to have decided beforehand that he was going to let the game flow. A noble idea, but he let too many clear fouls go unpunished as a result.

Attendance: 11,707 (1,210).