Seventeen summer signings, a new division, three players making their debuts, yet one thing never changes in the Rotherham United camp.
AFC Bournemouth had every reason to believe they had won this match.
They were leading 1-0, deserved to be leading 1-0 with their slick passing creating the better second-half chances, and time was almost up.
But the whole of League One discovered last season that Steve Evans’ men battle right to the very end and grab late results. Now the Championship realises it too.
One of the 17 new boys, striker Jordan Bowery, on as a substitute, nodded home Paul Taylor’s 93rd-minute corner to score his first goal for two seasons and ensure the Millers made the long journey back from the south coast with an important point in the bag.
His celebration, running wildly to an ecstatic Rotherham bench, showed what it meant to player and club, and 492 travelling supporters got in loudly on the act too.
Oh we do like to be beside the seaside.
“It was an excellent point. I think Bournemouth are an outstanding team. We knew we’d have to try to restrict them,” said Millers boss Steve Evans. “I think we were just getting to the point of frustrating them to death and getting ourselves into the game when they scored.”
“There is no team in the Championship that comes here and has possession. We knew today that at times we wouldn’t have a lot of the ball and we’d have to have a real structure about our team, and I think we did.
“When you see Bournemouth players at the back kicking long balls off the field then you know you’ve got your team and discipline right.”
Evans had surprised many by handing instant debuts to new signings Luciano Becchio and Jonson Clarke-Harris, with the former Leeds United man up front with Paul Taylor and former Oldham Athletic youngster Clarke-Harris given a role wide on the left, with Ben Pringle again deployed on the right.
Frazer Richardson was debutant No 3, producing an assured performance at right-back in another strong Rotherham defensive effort.
Clarke-Harris, who will be all the better for the experience, saw more of the ball than Becchio, who is plainly not yet match-fit, and both were brought off not long after half-time.
“When we came down on the coach on Friday, if I’m being honest, Luciano was on the bench,” Evans revealed.
“But I slept on it, and if you’re going to give him game-time you can only give it him on the pitch. The plan was to give him 60 minutes but it’s fair to say at 45 the big man was hanging a little bit.”
He described the decision to leave out Alex Revell and Lee Frecklington as “a big call”.
The sun shone down and in the first half, in the baking heat, neither goalkeeper had a save to make.
Bournemouth passed and passed and passed but everywhere you looked Millers players were working hard. closing down, backing each other up, keeping their shape.
It frustrated the Goldsands Stadium fans, not that supporters in this genteel, well-heeled part of the world show too much in the way of annoyance.
They sighed as Matt Ritchie’s close-range poke was deflected for a corner in a rare moment of genuine home danger.
There were even tuts, big ones, towards half-time as more and more of their possession came to nothing . Bournemouth BH7 7AF, with its imposing houses, luxury apartment blocks and tree-lined approach to the ground, is no Millwall and the Den.
The match exploded into life after the break, with the Cherries now making their possession and quickfire passing count. Kari Arnason survived shouts for a penalty when he draped his arms round Yann Kermorgant, Callum Wilson slid in but couldn’t apply the final touch and then the new signing from Coventry City showed £3 million worth of pace to race clear and hit the post.
Rotherham looked to have ridden the storm, countering with shots and a header from substitute Revell and efforts from Bowery and Taylor, but on the hour Matt Ritchie delivered an inviting cross to the back post where centre-half Steve Cook headed home.
Bournemouth and their fans thought the match was won. There was relief in the air and, when the impish Ritchie scampered through to test Adam Collins four minutes after the breakthrough expectations of a second goal were high.
But then, appropriately enough in this lovely coastal town, the tide started to turn.
Rotherham still scrapped, they still harried, but, with that box of tricks, Taylor playing deeper and showing up more and more, now they had the ball.
Revell had made his presence felt since replacing Becchio and his chest-down set up fellow sub Matt Derbyshire who half-volleyed over. It never threatened to go in, but the Millers were coming.
Soon after, in the 79th minute, they switched roles, Derbyshire’s probing cross from the right wing eluding the outstretched leg of Revell by only inches.
Then typical Taylor skill and a beautiful pass released Derbyshire down the right again. A frantic block snuffed out the danger, but, yes, the Millers were coming.
The home crowd sensed the shifting sands, roaring on their side as the atmosphere took on a keener, more desperate edge. A bit more Millwall than Bournemouth now.
Arnason headed wide, and then a gentleman’s excuse me between Revell, Derbyshire and Bowery on the edge of the area saw all three of them nearly shoot with none of them actually getting an effort away. Three minutes past the 90 and Bowery waited for no-one this time, meeting Taylor’s corner from the right with a header which went through keeper Lee Camp and, gloriously, into the net.
Evans said: “I’d told the chairman that we wanted to be in the game at 70 minutes, and we were.
“I’m pleased the goal falls to a young man who tried incredibly hard. You could see what it meant to the team. You see him running to the bench and you see the bench’s reaction to him. That’s the spirit we’ve got in the camp.
“Our players put in a big effort for us today and that’s what we’re going to be about in the Championship. We don’t have £20,000-a-week players like other clubs in this league have.
“We pay what we can afford, and today we’ve given our supporters, who have made a long journey down here and were terrific, value for money. Whether we scored a late goal or not, we gave them real effort and a real shift.”
There was still time for a final fright as Bournemouth substitute Andrew Surman’s shot brought a flying save from Collin, but, as we all know, Evans’ battlers love a happy ending and weren’t to be denied.
The Millers had come.
Hero: Frazer Richardson. Classy debut from the Rotherham-born defender. Millers fans have waited a long time to see the right-back in action and he was sound defensively, good on the ball and passed well. Phsyically strong too.
Key moment: It won’t be the most eye-catching stop Millers keeper Adam Collin ever makes, but his save in the 64th minute from Matt Ritchie prevented the home side scoring a second goal when they were on top and building up a head of steam.
Viewpoint: Classic away performance. Soak up the pressure and take one of your chances to earn a very valuable point, particularly with another away match, at Bolton tomorrow, coming up.
Manager’s view: Steve Evans: “Matt Derbyshire has come on and Alex Revell and they made a difference. In the last 20 minutes I think we looked like scoring. Until Fraser Richardson’s legs went in the last 10 minutes he was an example to everyone on the pitch. Callum Wilson is one of the best strikers in the league and I didn’t see him today. That’s testament to Kari Arnason who was head and shoulders, again, the best player on the park. He was ably assisted by Craig Morgan.”
Eddie Howe: “When you work so hard for your goal like we did and there are seconds left to go, you expect to win. It was a tight game and we know how Rotherham play but for 89 minutes we answered all those questions.”
AFC Bournemouth: Camp 5; Francis 8, Elphick 7, Cook 8, Daniels 8; Ritchie 8 (Surman 90), Arter 6, O’Kane 7, Pugh 6 (Fraser 83); Kermorgant 6 (Pitman 70), Wilson 6. Subs: Flahavan, Smith, Harte, Stanislas.
Rotherham United: Collin 6; Richardson 8, Morgan 8, Arnason 8, Skarz 8; Pringle 6 (Derbyshire 65, 7), Smallwood 7, Green 7, Clarke-Harris 6 (Bowery 55, 6); Taylor 8, Becchio 5 (Revell 50, 7). Subs: Loach, Broadfoot, Frecklington, Wordsworth.
Referee: Graham Horwood (Bedfordshire).
Attendance: 8,480 (492).