Rotherham: Hard-working Millers have the edge in Play-off push

Kieran Agard celebrates after putting Rotherham ahead
Kieran Agard celebrates after putting Rotherham ahead
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Tell you what, I wouldn’t mind these two meeting up in the League One Play-off Final at Wembley and producing a game like this. It would go down a bomb. With the same result, of course!

Mind you, if it was like this, but with promotion at stake, nerves wouldn’t be so much shredded as blown to smithereens.

Kieran Agard (third left) is mobbed in celebration after scoring what was to be the winner for the Millers

Kieran Agard (third left) is mobbed in celebration after scoring what was to be the winner for the Millers

Let’s cut through some of the mistakes on a poor pitch in difficult, windy conditions. Let’s applaud them for what it was - a thrilling, entertaining afternoon throughout with a riveting finale.

It was one of those games you daren’t take your eyes off for a second.

You got the impression both teams had thought beforehand that... we’re playing a good side today. You can imagine individuals calculating they were up against good players, dangerous performers, and reckoning they really had to be top notch.

From the first whistle, both teams were ‘at it’. There was a second minute ‘Welcome card’ from giant defender Ben Nugent, so brutal it might have knocked Alex Revell’s head off rather than just left him lying prone.

But nothing was going to knock the big striker or the rest of the Millers off their stride.

And as for their own defensive solidity, Rotherham had their own one-man wrecking ball in captain Craig Morgan.

He was simply immense on his return to the club he helped to successive promotions recently. If he made one header, he made 50. Out of 50.

What an example the captain set. Sometimes, you could imagine the rest of the back four sitting back in an armchair, cigar in hand, watching on admiringly as he sorted out the next threat and thinking... “Carry on skipper, you’re doing fine.”

Except that everyone had to dig in when required. And they needed big spades in the last 20 minutes.

For example, I don’t recall Joe Skarz making so many important interventions inside his own area. When a calm head was required, up popped the imperious Kari Arnason.

In midfield, where Lee Frecklington also had a superb return to his former club, Richie Smallwood was outstanding.

He made so many ball-winning challenges and interventions (note the crucial one after only five minutes just six yards to almost certainly Conor Washington scoring). The skill and quality of Michael O’Connor is not in any doubt but anyone wondering why Smallwood is getting the nod ahead of him should have seen this performance.

But this wasn’t a backs-to-the-wall win, only when it had to be in the final stages, by which time Posh were piling everybody but Barry Fry into Rotherham’s half... “it’s a long time since I’ve seen a team play 2-3-5,” chuckled Steve Evans.

No, this was also about the Millers reaffirming their own ability in possession.

After an action-packed, ding-song opening spell, I liked the way Rotherham took over the final period of the first half.

Some of their play was superb. It often happens where home supporters see an away team playing well and they’re thinking “these are a good side”. Peterborough fans would have been thinking that here I reckon.

At times you wondered if there were more grey shirts out there than blue. That’s a sign a team is not only playing well but working their little cotton socks off too.

Both sides were never less than threatening, often dangerous and Posh have some damaging pace and liveliness in a few attacking positions. You could also sense the home side’s unease at the way, and in the manner, Rotherham kept coming at them.

An important moment was the brilliant 21st minute save by Adam Collin from Nicky Ajose who should have scored. But with James Tavernier, Kieran Agard and Nicky Adams going close and Revell flashing a header a fraction over, Rotherham had the home crowd on tenterhooks.

Then, right at the end of stoppage time, Agard went down under a desperate challenge from Nugent. If I’m not contradicting myself here, I wasn’t instantly sure but I wasn’t surprised the ref pointed to the spot.

Agard, who has been denied at least two penalties for far more blatant fouls on him in recent away games, grabbed the ball and stuck it away for his 18th of the season.

Posh, with the wind second half, made two half-time changes, went three at the back and piled forward. But that was definitely treading on thin ice with this Millers side and Posh were very fortunate to escape on several occasions as the Millers shredded them.

It should have been 2-0 on the hour. Adams, in his first start and finally able to show why he’d been bought, was set up all alone just outside the area by a Frecklington-Pringle link. However, Olejnik diverted the shot wide with his leg.

How key might that miss prove, Millers fans were pondering?

Well, Collin equalled it a few minutes later, making himself ‘big’ to divert a shot from Washington who got inside Tavernier from a wind-aided, long ball.

The last 20 minutes was all about Millers defiance. Unable to do anything going forward in the final stages, the only downside of their 90 minutes, the emphasis was on holding back the blue tide. Something similar to the way the Millers have piled forward late on in home games.

There were some heart-stopping scrambles and dodgy moments but every time it was a Millers head or boot which made the connection. Everybody backed up a teammate wherever the action was. It was compelling stuff.

It was appropriate that, in stoppage time from a corner swung into the mixer, the head of Morgan should be the one that just got a touch to glance it away to safety and ensure a great win.

It sets up a humdinger tomorrow night against Brentford and these Millers, after an effort and result like this, will need the New York Stadium backing at its noisiest to help them. They deserve it.