The magic of the FA Cup eh? But the only magic for Rotherham United followers has been as a disappearing act for the past ten years!
Well, the Millers plucked a rabbit out of the hat with this one, that’s for sure.
Be honest, when the draw was made, you groaned. You wanted something a lot easier-looking than this. Stevenage are nobody’s patsies and there didn’t look too many harder first round ties around.
What was it? No home win in the competition since 2002 and that famous sinking of the Saints, Richie Barker’s diving header and all.
Nine goes at home since and not a win including seven home losses on the trot, most by a 3-0 scoreline. Find the magic in that little lot then!
A bit of straw-clutching went on. There were those who noted that the last time Rotherham met somebody higher than them it was Southampton and that last home win. Stevenage were coming from a standing of fourth in League One. A lucky omen perhaps?
Well, there was certainly nothing lucky at all about this. The only luck was carried by the visitors. Lucky they weren’t finished off by half-time and lucky they were still in a thrilling tie right through to a gripping finale.
Rotherham reserved some of their best football of the season for this game. This was no backs-to-the-wall, hanging-on job but a performance in which they ladled up some composed, controlled and threatening football which had Stevenage bewildered and a touch flustered.
They only seemed to really spark from the moment that James Dunne struck his 25 yard stunner to make it 3-1 just before the hour. It led to a cracking final half-hour or so with the result in doubt right to the very end with Ian Sharps clearing a Marcus Haber header that looked to be sneaking in as the third minute of (five) stoppage time slowly ticked on.
The comment of Steve Evans - “What a cup-tie” - was apt. Not in the first half though. It was too one-sided for that.
Rotherham - with Jamie Devitt making his debut on the right flank and Evans opting to partner Alex Revell with Kayode Odejayi in the absence of groin victim Daniel Nardiello - were downright excellent at the start.
They might have scored from any one of four opportunities in the opening 12 minutes, two of them Sharps headers.
Then, Stevenage should have scored in their first attack but Andy Warrington made a fantastic save to deny Haber who was only eight yards out.
Kari Arnason and Josh Morris went close and even Lee Frecklington admitted afterwards he should have passed to the unmarked Devitt instead of shooting.
Devitt, sharp and productive for an hour, had a hand in the overdue opener on 29 minutes, crucially whipping in an early centre and Mark Bradley, who showed a knack for goals in pre-season (he was top scorer) and had netted in midweek for the reserves, had continued his run from right back to hook in a smart finish.
Two goal-saving clearances almost on the line by Anthony Grant denied Ben Pringle and Revell and just about the only criticism of the home side was that they hadn’t put the tie beyond Stevenage’s reach by half-time.
The ominous talk over a pie and a Bovril at half-time was that Stevenage might well be getting a rollicking and would step it up. They had to. They hadn’t got to fourth performing - or rather, not performing in some positions - as they had.
They chucked on the experience of Patrick Agyemang but nearly fell further behind to Revell’s volley.
Then in stepped Warrington with another vital save, actually off Revell from a corner, and the value of this was immediately apparent.
It all began with a shuddering challenge from Sharps. Pringle got going up the left and although Roberts cleared poorly, Frecklington still had plenty to do from over 20 yards. He did it with measured control and accuracy.
It was just the cushion Rotherham needed and two minutes later, on 55 minutes, Frecklington was striking again in front of a jubilant North End after involvement from the energetic Morris who again looked an excellent addition.
But the cup usually has a twist and two minutes further on, Dunne’s super long range, top corner strike transformed the visitors and Warrington was soon saving from Haber.
Stevenage, from looking forlorn and beaten, suddenly sensed a chance and when Filipe Morais finished off after Haber’s short diverted to him, we had the grand finale all nerve-wrackingly set up.
The knife edge was produced for the tie to balance on but what impressed at this point was Rotherham keeping their heads, keeping their composure with a steady hand not least from Arnason and Morgan.
Frecklington was a whisker away from clinching it; Stevenage threw men forward and tested the nerves of all at the New York Stadium but Rotherham defended manfully.
It was fitting the excitement should continue deep into stoppage time with Michael O’Connor’s free-kick kept out brilliantly by Steve Arnold before Haber’s header, accompanied by anxious squeals as it brushed off Arnason and carried on goalwards, was unceremoniously wellied away by Sharps a yard from the line.
A cracking cup-tie, a splendid Millers performance - and you’ve finally seen them win a home tie at last in the FA Cup. Magic!