We haven’t half had some drama following Rotherham United on their travels this season. But this one doesn’t just take the biscuit, it takes a whole tinful of Huntley and Palmer’s finest!
Don’t know about a report but you could write a book on it! In fact, Millers away games this season would make some reading, with wins all over the shop and records, firsts and longests popping up all over the place.
What will happen next I really don’t know, except that if the Millers are heading for your neck of the woods then, based on all the evidence so far, you’ve got a game and a half on.
Yes, their run will end sometime and Sheffield United could well beat them tomorrow, but if the Blades fancied a nice steady game, nothing too taxing a few days before Wembley, then they’ve certainly got the wrong opposition turning up for that!
Of all the grounds I’ve covered the Millers on, Gillingham has probably proved the most difficult for a variety of reasons. They have rarely got much, or even played well, on so many occasions. What was it, 26 years and 12 visits since the last win there? Not too much, either, before then and lots of times they’d not even managed a goal in front of just about the most hostile and partisan crowd on the lower-division circuit.
So, if you’re going to win and end a sequence, overcome a ‘hoodoo’, then why not do it like this? Amazing stuff.
Rotherham have certainly been involved in some exciting games this season. There’s rarely a dull moment when they’re around and it’s credit to a group of driven players who have a go, pour everything in and certainly never, ever give up.
When Kari Arnason - who has hardly put a toenail out of place just lately - shed possession to enable Bradley Dack to demonstrate perfectly how to chip the keeper, it meant they’d gone 3-2 down with six minutes left and just the nature of the goal suggested a defeat was on its way.
But when, about a minute later, Adam Barrett fluffed a routine clearance to let in Tom Hitchcock for a coolly-taken equaliser, it was back in the melting pot.
All week I’d fancied the Millers to win this one and during the game had a strange feeling they would get a last-minute winner. At 3-3, I’d indicated to the Radio Sheffield commentator alongside that they’d go and get a winner in the last minute and even put up four fingers on one hand and three on the other.
When the stoppage-time board went up showing six minutes, it was like an adrenalin shot to these players. The near-500 Millers fans (the biggest I’ve seen follow them down there) knew their favourites would go hunting a winner.
I did not imagine Tom Hitchcock would do his very best Dennis Bergkamp impression to get it!
His touch, and particularly the way he then manouevred his body around the bouncing ball, was so reminiscent of how the former Arsenal great would do that. It was instinctive finishing at its finest, the execution being a sidefoot volley to lift the ball high beyond the keeper.
The sheer brilliance and quality of the goal and its significance even had me, I must admit, off my seat and punching the air.
But it would be remiss not to note what happened in the frantic four minutes remaining with Rotherham players hurling themselves in front of things, putting their bodies on the line, in a series of goalmouth
scrambles when an equaliser seemed inevitable as Gillingham threw the kitchen sink, the washer and even the damn cooker at it.
But they were never going to concede. This took the unbeaten run to 16, and only two instances of 18 unbeaten (1950/51 and 1969/70) have been longer in the club’s history.
It was also the 13th away win, second most ever in a season (behind a 15), but none of the above have included a faster goal or a hat-trick by a substitute - Hitchcock the first Miller to do it.
Oh, and in case you missed it, it confirms them in the play-offs.
To Kieran Agard goes the distinction of the second fastest goal for the club (Bobby Davison’s 10-second FA Cup goal tops it) and it’s believed to be their fastest ever in a league game.
It goes down as 13 seconds (timed precisely since at 12.15 seconds) when he was popping the ball into an empty net from a Nicky Adams cross with Alex Revell, Joe Skarz and Lee Frecklington the only others to touch it from the kick-off.
Gillingham were lucky to survive the next 20 minutes and even luckier to get away with not conceding a penalty when Lee Frecklington was brought down. But the home side, effectively using the bulk of Bayo Akinfenwa to spark their attacks, started to threaten and the big striker nodded them level from a free-kick on the half-hour.
Shortly after Adams struck a volleyed chance over, Myles Weston caught James Tavernier napping from a long ball to put the Gills in front on 57 minutes. They had a couple more opportunities too, Adam Collin making a very sharp save.
But Hitchcock marked his entrance with a superbly-taken equaliser. Interestingly, this was his favourite of the three. “The touch made the goal,” he said of his instant control after Richie Smallwood picked him out with a threaded pass.
The game remained on a knife edge in an enthralling last period and the Gills looked to have got the edge when going in front again, but we should have known better.
We all love a seven-goal thriller and they don’t come much more thrilling than this one.
Hero: Only one choice when a sub comes on and scores a hat-trick to win the game. The finishing for all three was absolute quality and the height of cool. In fact, the boy has ice in his veins considering the way he took them.
Meanwhile, Millers boss Steve Evans has revealed that two recent chats have been behind the revival of striker Tom Hitchcock and which led to his remarkable, historic match winning hat-trick at Gillingham.
Hitchcock came off the bench after an hour and it’s the first time in the club’s history that a substitute has scored a hat-trick.
On loan from QPR, he hasn’t been in the starting line-up since January 25 and has made only three brief appearances off the bench since.
“Two weeks ago, Tom did not look as if he was going to get on the pitch let alone start a game,” said Evans.
“I had two chats with him and, to be fair to the lad, he’s been sharp since then.
“We’re going to be in there fighting and scrapping, starting again tomorrow night at Bramall Lane.
“They’re off to Wembley on Sunday and me and the whole of Rotherham wishes them all the very best and hope they get to the final.
“But we’ve got our own corner to fight in this division and we’ll be giving it everything and not holding back.”
Hitchcock, asked which of the three was his best goal, said: “The first one because of the first touch which was perfect and it just set it up.”
Kieran Agard, with his 21st of the season, had opened the scoring in just 13 seconds, which is believed to be the second fastest goal in the club’s history after one by Bobby Davison in 10 seconds in a home FA Cup replay against York City in 1994.
It therefore makes Agard’s Rotherham’s quickest Football League goal and tops the one by Daniel Nardiello in 16 seconds at home to Wycombe last season.
Evans did not rule out key midfield man Lee Frecklington of tomorrow’s clash with Sheffield United at Bramall Lane.
But the 12-goal ace is obviously a doubt having come off with ten minutes to go after suffering a back injury.