IT’S one of football’s great cliches but a real truism. It’s a fine line between ...
Yep, you don’t need me to finish it. Everybody knows it and a perfect example came in the 88th minute of this match.
It was the difference between the elation of winning or the disappointment of drawing for Rotherham United; the difference between 10th place and touching distance of the places that matter and the bottom half - which certainly wasn’t on the agenda when Steve Evans signed his contract and promised he’d start shifting in loads of quality players.
After an insipid, disjointed start that probably puzzled the New York Stadium patrons and had them asking “what’s going on?”, they had battered Oxford in the second half and shouldn’t have been worrying the visitors might snatch something late on.
They would have done but for goalkeeping that had happy Millers followers recalling it over their drinks long into Saturday night.
The cries of “Sheeearer, Sheeearer” and the ovation he got going off, would have meant plenty to Millers keeper Scott Shearer.
If you take the place of a fans’ favourite (which he has done in Andy Warrington) then you had better come up to the mark ... and then a bit more.
But somehow (perhaps it was the hairstyle as well, who knows?) Millers fans hadn’t instantly taken to him. Yes, he’s conceded a few, but if it was possible to blame him for more than one of the six at Port Vale (and that was questionable) or any of the three v Rochdale, then I’ll happily hear the arguments.
Mind you, don’t slip and fall on a rain-soaked pitch and give Chesterrfield a gift after a few minutes or else ...
When a cross into the Millers area beat defenders and fell to James Constable about six yards out, an equaliser looked inevitable, not least after the ball left his head.
But Shearer’s fingertip against the post brought gasps of disbelief and he was even alert and agile enough to block Deane Smalley’s instant follow-up on the line with his legs.
We were all still digesting it when the ball sped to the other end via Lionel Ainsworth.
Kieran Agard couldn’t finish off but sub Jason Taylor helped himself to a side-footer that settled it and had the ground in raptures.
If you then looked down the other end from where the goal celebrations were, you would have seen Ian Sharps embracing Shearer and others offering their thanks for the win bonus.
So, it turned out all right in the second half for a side showing five changes from the previous week - including new left-back Bob Harris who settled in nicely - and began as if they’d never met.
Kari Arnason made his first appearance since September 1 and first one in midfield.
Perhaps Sean Rigg’s seventh-minute strike from a corner had a bit to do with it, but much of the first half wasn’t good enough, to be honest, if you’re talking automatic promotion.
They lacked a vibrancy, a zip and looked disjointed. Kayode Odejayi was left isolated and had to put up with some poor delivery into the bargain.
Oxford boss Chris Wilder pushed one of his three centre-backs, Harry Worley, forward to pick up Ben Pringle who was ‘in the hole’ behind Odejayi. With nothing decisive coming down the flanks either, Rotherham were unconvincing for 25 minutes.
Then Gareth Evans pulled an overhead effort inches wide and Ben Pringle saw his shot diverted by Damien Batt on the line up on to the bar and then the post before rebounding to safety.
Suddenly, the crowd was roused, the team were at it.
Then Sharps flicked on Arnason’s long throw and Ainsworth’s volley rattled the bar. Before you could say “I bet it’s not our day”, Odejayi had been brought down as he got to the loose ball.
With regular penalty-taker Daniel Nardiello on the bench for a fourth straight game, Michael O’Connor took responsibility and confidently struck home the equaliser.
Perhaps the game changed there and then. Certainly Oxford, on a five-match losing run in the league, but bouyed by their early goal, looked less perky after the equaliser.
From the start of the second half, Rotherham were on the front foot as they swept towards the North End with Odejayi glancing a header narrowly wide.
However, set-piece headers from Worley and Rigg could have restored Oxford’s lead and Rotherham may well examine their fault-lines on those occasions.
With Ainsworth starting to cause big problems and Oxford looking vulnerable, the win was up for grabs for the Millers.
Kieran Agard’s introduction for Gareth Evans offered more goal threat and three times he could have scored.
Then came the breakthrough with 16 minutes left. A good build-up involved Arnason and Pringle. Hunt joined in on the overlap, picked out Odejayi and his lay-back saw O’Connor arrive to place an 18-yarder beyond the keeper.
Pringle was denied by a stunning tip over save from Brown and the ensuing corner saw Arnason have a header cleared off the line.
With two minutes left came Shearer’s heroics and Taylor’s clincher.
Although a minute before then there was an equally important intervention - a full-stretch header by Craig Morgan six yards out with Constable right behind him and looking sure to score.
Another fine line between ...