It was a titanic struggle which swung one way and then the other, with the result always in doubt.
I’m telling you, the half-time tug o’ war between two teams of kids at the City of Cardiff Stadium was one hell of a tussle.
Much like this clash between two teams at different ends of the Championship.
The Millers are improving and will stay clear of the drop zone if they keep producing performances like the one they gave against a side now unbeaten on their own turf in 10 matches and boasting one of the best home records in the division.
The Bluebirds gave the visitors a yank early on, dominating the opening exchanges as Rotherham started slowly and taking the lead through Anthony Pilkington’s deft touch and finish in the 24th minute.
But Neil Redfearn’s men dug in their heels and hauled themselves back into a game which grew more absorbing and fiercely contested the longer it went on.
They led 2-1 for a spell and, while a draw was about right, Redfearn was adamant his side could have taken all three points.
Stood in the driving rain at pitchside afterwards, the Millers manager spoke of the pride he feels in the way his team are developing.
This was only the fourth away point of his three-and-a-half-month tenure and his first draw on the road. The signs of progress are evident. Two months ago, a month even, Rotherham would have lost this match.
It was a a deserved point, a good point, the kind of point that sees a team stay up.
With Redfearn hoping to add Birmingham City’s Andrew Shinnie to his attacking midfield options and maybe one other player arriving in the next week, with important men on their way back from injury and with growing confidence among his players, he has reason to feel optimistic.
“It’s still ongoing. Andrew is somebody we fancy. These things take time,” he said. “We’ve got to be patient.
“We were hoping it would be done before the Cardiff game, but we’re not at that stage yet. Other clubs are involved. It’s not just ourselves in the transaction. Players have got to come and go from a few clubs. He’s an attacking midfielder with flair and an eye for goals. He would add real competition for places.”
Redfearn has drilled home the message, if you can’t win, don’t lose. After coming within seconds of a draw at Preston on January 2, this time the Millers got the job done, weathering a period of second-half Cardiff pressure and even finishing the game on top as they went in search of a winner which had looked very unlikely in that lack-lustre beginning.
Debutant Chris Burke, on loan from Nottingham Forest, showed exciting signs of what might be to come on the right flank with his close control, searching balls and nippy runs, and striker Luciano Becchio, a leaner figure than in his loan spell last season, came on for his first taste of football in nearly 16 months.
Now it’s B&B combinations rather than B&Q blasts at the forefront of the Rotherham boss’s mind.
“I thought Burkey was excellent,” Redfearn said. “You know what you’re going to get from Chris Burke. He’s delivered a top level of performance throughout his career. He looked a real threat. He was menacing. I thought he used all his experience, particularly late on in the game.
“If we can get Burkey at it and Joe Newell delivering into the box, then Becchio is going to be a real handful.”
Like those tug-o’-war youngsters, the Millers had to fight for every inch they gained as they hit back from Pilkington’s opener.
It took them 32 minutes to muster their first shot, then Burke and Danny Ward, twice, had shots saved before Newell latched on to Danny Ward’s lofted ball, rounded goalkeeper David Marshall and fired Rotherham back into the match on the stroke of half-time with a classy finish from a tight angle on the left.
Burke delivered one of the passes of the day minutes after the break, a measured ball down the line helping Grant Ward, playing in a central role behind striker Danny Ward, win a corner, taken by Newell, which Pilkington, Cardiff’s most dangerous player with Craig Noone, could only help into his own net.
“I’m really pleased with the performance. To come away with something when you visit Cardiff is no mean feat,” Redfearn said. “Perhaps the only disappointment is that we should have won with the way we got ourselves in front and how we played second half.
“It was a real effort by the whole team because this is not an easy place to come to.
“What pleased me more than anything - I know we had that battling, fighting spirit again - was that we passed the ball really well.
“Some of our passages of play were excellent - how we got Grant Ward on the ball between the lines, how we broke. We got Newelly in, particularly for his goal. It was a good all-round display.”
Burke could have added a third in Rotherham’s best period of the game, Marshall beating out his shot, but Pilkington struck again with another assured effort, dinking the ball over Lee Camp for an equaliser on the hour.
This season is about survival for the Millers and so was this second half for a time at 2-2 as Aimen Belaid put in a goalsaving tackle on Lex Immers, Lee Peltier smacked a close-in header just wide and Bruno Ecuele Manga blasted over when he had even more time than it takes to type his name.
A committed display full of running and endeavour, decorated by some encouraging pockets of decent play, saw the Millers home, and Peltier compounded the Bluebirds’ frustration with a red card for an 85th-minute late lunge on Jonson Clarke-Harris - a potential leg-breaker, reckoned Redfearn.
City boss Russell Slade praised the Millers’ attitude - “They always fight and scrap, that’s the kind of team they are” - but said his side had showed more quality.
Cardiff 2 Rotherham 2. Craft 2 Graft 2.
Redfearn won’t agree with Slade’s assessment. But he’ll take the result.
Cardiff City (4-4-2): Marshall 5; Peltier 5, Manga 8, Connolly 7, Malone 6; Noone 7 (Da Silva 85), O’Keefe 6, Whittingham (Ameobi 76) 6, Ralls 5; Pilkington 8, Mason 5 (Immers 59, 5). Subs not used: Moore, Macheda, Dikgacoi, Gunnarsson.
Rotherham United (4-2-3-1): Camp 6; Facey 7, Broadfoot 7, Belaid 7 (Collins 85), Mattock 6; Green 7, Smallwood 7; Burke 8, G Ward 7, Newell 6 (Becchio 67, 6); D Ward 6 (Clarke-Harris 79). Subs not used: Cairns, Richardson, Rawson, Derbyshire.
Goals: Pilkington 24, 60 (Cardiff); Newell 44, Pilkington og 49 (Rotherham).
Referee: Jeremy Simpson (Lancashire).