The day after Rotherham United chairman Tony Stewart was given the freedom of the town for his services to football, the players produced a performance worthy of a gong of its own.
More of that later. For now, let’s concentrate on what really matters most: their first win in the Championship under Steve Evans and a message sent out to the second tier that you can have all the parachute payments you want but you’ll never get an easy ride against the Millers.
Wolves are a team destined for the upper reaches of the division but here, on a day when fans of both teams were asked to show their allegiance ahead of kick off by holding up coloured cards, they ran into a wall of red and white.
Rotherham’s defiance was magnificent. Desperate the odd time, but always disciplined and totally committed. The visitors controlled possession for large parts of the game but the Millers, just as they did at Derby on opening day, kept their shape, refused to yield and, when they had the ball, never lost their attacking intent.
It sure wasn’t pretty. But the outcome was beautiful.
Ryan Hall, on as a half-time substitute for John Swift, won the match for Rotherham in the 76th minute. Skipper Craig Morgan rose to meet a Ben Pringle corner from the right, bringing a superb parry from Carl Ikeme. Wolves tried to hoof the ball away but Hall charged down the clearance and the ball sped into the net.
And on this great day in the club’s history - the first Championsip match at New York Stadium - how the fans played their part. The Millers players had run and run and by 70 minutes it was as if the crowd realised they needed more encouragement if they were to maintain their Herculean effort right to the end.
Up went the noise levels, up went the tempo, then came the goal. Cue delirium, from crowd and Millers players alike. Under Freeman Stewart, the town, the club, the team and the supporters are all in this together, and here was another one of those amazing shared New York experiences.
Rotherham boss Steve Evans said: “We are delighted. We’ve not been right in the first half but we changed things around a wee bit at half-time and in the second half we displayed a little bit more desire to win a football match. The goal comes from Ryan Hall showing that kind of desire.”
The home side should have had a penalty for handball after two minutes. Too early in the game maybe. But it should never be too early. Referee Graeme Salisbury said ‘no’, the first wrong decision of many he made in the first half.
On 15 minutes Adam Collin produced two superb quick-reaction saves, one straight after the other, to deny Bacary Sako before Millers new boy Paul Taylor, who showed up pretty well early doors only two days after joining the club, hit the bar, his clever twist creating space after he’d been fed by Alex Revell.
Then Collin dawdled on the ball and Nouha Dicko was on him in a flash. Dicko, having done the hard bit, should have scored, but Collin redeemed himself by thwarting the former Millers loan ace and then scrambling across goal to deny Rajiv van La Parra with the help of Kari Arnason.
The crowd held their breath when Dicko raced clear in the 42nd minute and dinked the ball over Collin. Goal surely. No, just wide.
Half-time saw the departure of Swift. The 19-year-old is a huge talent but this wasn’t the day for him. Wolves were too strong and he shed possession too easily, but he’ll have found out in those 45 minutes just what it takes to go from boy to man at this level. A Swift lesson, you might say.
Afterwards, Evans spoke about him in fatherly tones and the youngster should soon be back.
Until the goal, Wolves, keeping possession and moving the ball round the pitch, had been in the ascendancy, but paid the price for not making the most of their chances. This is how it might be for the Millers this season, soaking up pressure from big clubs with big budgets and scrapping like fury for everything they earn. They’re certainly up for that challenge.
Kari Arnason stood out. Dicko had been a threat all afternoon with his searing pace in attack. In the second half, he had Arnason one on one in the right corner. Dicko pushed the ball past him and went to beat him on the outside, but Arnason had read Dicko’s intention, waited for the ball to pass him, calmly stepped into the space to block Dicko’s run and the ball ran harmlessly for a goal-kick. International-class defending.
Moments later he produced one of the blocks of the game as the ball pinged around the penalty area, flinging himself into the path of Matt Doherty’s shot. International-class commitment.
And there were other individual performances all over the pitch combining to complete the Millers’ resistance.
Kirk Broadshoulders never shies away from responsibility. A centre-half by trade, he stood up to the right-back challenge of facing Bacary Sako and never gave one of the division’s big danger men an easy ride. The Millers faithful love a player they can see gives his all and you can sense them warming to the big Scot.
Evans joked afterwards that if he asked Broadfoot to play in the net the player would be straight off to the sports shop, no questions asked, to buy goalie gloves.
For a player who never stops running Paul Green never seems to be in a rush, always making right decisons as he nicks the ball away in defence and then gets the Millers moving in the other direction with a calm head and good passing. Green for stop, Green for go.
Revell battled manfully up front, winning plenty in the air but nothing from the ref as visiting centre-half Danny Batth spent much of the match with his arms wrapped round him like a teenager in the back row at the cinema.
Before the goal, Wolves had wasted a series of set-pieces, a succession of free-kicks in dangerous places bringing them nothing.
Rotherham showed them what a set-piece can bring. They had Broadfoot, Morgan, Arnason and Revell all lurking in the penalty area for Pringle’s corner. And when you have this many big men the aerial threat looms large. This time it was Morgan’s turn to nearly profit before Hall finished things off for him.
After the goal, Wolves came at Rotherham again, but the home side were in no mood to let things slip now.
Kieran Agard, after the collapse of his move to Leeds, came on to a rapturous reception punctuated by only one or two boos, and set about troubling the visitors’ defence.
It says much about how the Millers stifled the opposition threat late on that the only Wolves entries in my notebook after the goal were an 80th-minute free-kick, that should never have been awarded, hammered over by James Henry, and an Arnason-eque block by Joe Skarz on the same player two minutes later.
In fact, Rotherham spent more and more time in the opposition half as Wolves pressed and they hit them on the counter-attack.
Wolves will feel aggrieved to have left with nothing, but the Millers worked like crazy, gave everything for the cause and took their chance.
Victory capped a wonderful couple of days for Stewart, and well done, Chairman, on your richly-deserved honour.
To the players, their first three valuable points. And The Queen’s Award For Industry.
Hero: Iceland international Kari Arnason is a class act. The centre-half is assured on the ball, reads the game beautifully, snuffs out danger before it occurs and is solid in the air and tackle. Great partnership with Craig Morgan.
Key moment: Nouha Dicko’s 42nd-minute miss. With the lead in the bag and no need to chase the game, Wolves might have passed Rotherham to death. Instead the Millers stood firm, then pounced.
Viewpoint: Victory shouldn’t disguise the size of the task facing the Millers this season. Other teams will pose them problems the way Wolves did. But no side is more resolute or works harder.
Manager’s view - Steve Evans: “We’re very unfortunate not to get a penalty kick after two minutes because if that’s not a handball in the box we may as well give this game up. It’s a clear penalty. Perhaps it was too early for the referee to give it but perhaps for 60 minutes things were too early for him to give because we didn’t seem to get a lot from him.”
Manager’s view - Kenny Jackett: “We had good control of the game right the way through. We had clear-cut chances in the first half where their keeper did well. We were just building up a head of steam when they scored. Fouls by Rotherham gave us good shooting positions around the box in the second half and we really had to do better with our set-pieces. Rotherham are a big side and defended their box very well.”
Attendance: 10,752 (1,650).