Nine points clear of the Championship drop zone, a first league win at Huddersfield since 1964, the teams below them all losing, climbing above Fulham and only two points off 16th place.
Hands up, Millers fans, who’d have taken that little lot before the weekend.
Rotherham United did a proper away job on Huddersfield Town. They clearly wanted it more than the home side, worked so hard that even a boss as demanding as Steve Evans was satisfied and killed the match with two quality goals.
Evans’ men bossed this game to such a degree that afterwards Terriers boss Chris Powell spoke of how “embarrassed” he was.
And they did it with two new defenders, one of whom is only 18 and met his teammates for the first time on the team coach on Saturday morning, making their debuts.
“Millers fans were probably looking at the team and thinking ‘He’s lost the plot’,” grinned Evans afterwards.
It’s a fine line between madness and genius!
Wigan, in 22nd place and occupying the last relegation spot, arrive at New York Stadium next weekend. A win then for Rotherham then and surely the survival champagne corks will be popping, although Evans was at pains to point out on Saturday evening more than once that nothing has been achieved yet.
The Latics can wait. For now, let’s bask in what happened at the John Smith’s Stadium.
Playing into a strong wind and with the sun in their eyes in the first half, the visitors pressed, challenged for every loose ball, contested every tackle and continued in the same vein after the interval. Kari Arnason pounced a minute before the break for his second goal in three games and Conor Sammon struck on the hour mark with a clinical rifled finish.
Evans had seen it coming.
“We put on some motivational videos when we got to the pre-match hotel and you could hear a pin drop,” he revealed. “There was a real focus. I said to the boys when we left the hotel today - the management staff - ‘We’ll win today. Look at that focus’.”
The Millers announced the signing on an emergency youth loan of teenage centre-half Farrend Rawson at 1pm. Two hours later he was filling the shoes of skipper Craig Morgan, not quite ready for action after twisting his knee, and making his first ever senior appearance in professional football.
The Derby County youngster settled quickly and grew in stature with every passing minute. By the early stages of the second half, he was getting his head on everything and completley justifying Evans’ decision to throw him straight in.
He was up against James Vaughan, a strong, wily, experienced campaigner in the second tier and a striker highly rated by Evans. He and Vaughan clashed in the first half and the kid with a big future gave the home man a bit of “afters”. Nothing serious, and the ref spotted it and penalised him. But the message was clear: ‘You won’t be bullying me, old man’.
Afterwards, it was “Faz” this and “Faz” that from the admiring Millers manager and players. Amazing how instantly a top performance brings you acceptance from your peers.
Importantly, his inclusion allowed Arnason to move out of his customary defensive role into midfield where he ruled as if he’d played there all season. He and player of the year Richie Smallwood - yes, I’m casting my vote now - squeezed the life out of Huddersfield’s attacking threat, and the big man’s deft feet, vision and forward bursts were too much for the opposition to handle.
Robbed of Morgan, key midfield man Paul Green and his most in-form striker, Danny Ward, by injury, Evans knew his defence hadn’t been strong enough in recent games. He gambled with his selection and his instincts were proved right.
“I come from a background where fortune favours the brave,” he said. “I told my chairman it was brave. My chairman loves me because I’m prepared to do something like that. He knows I’m prepared to put something right that I don’t think is right. I knew I stood to get bashed by a lot Millers fans today if it went wrong.”
It went wonderfully right, with Kirk Broadfoot a rock and steadying example at the side of young “Faz”, and Daniel Lafferty - a veritable Millers veteran of three whole days after his midweek loan switch from Burnley - a composed and assured presence at left-back in place of Zeki Fryers.
Arnason was on hand at the far post just before half-time to poke home after a stunning break down the right and telling cross from Jack Hunt, playing against his former club, and determination by the Icelandic international as he approached the penalty area allowed Sammon to settle the match.
“It’s a big one. It’s one we needed and it came at an appropriate time. It was a proper response to midweek and the defeat against Cardiff,” Evans acknowledged.
“Managers sometimes have to make some big decisions. We’re not oblivious to things. Our defending has not been good enough. But I thought it wasn’t just about the back five, which included an 18-year-old boy who has met us only today, to be honest.
“The whole team, to a man, gave everything for the shirt, and we’ve always said to our players that if we work as hard as that we can win games. Nothing has been achieved. But we’ve got a good three points - it’s six out of nine in a week.”
Noisy Millers fans were out in numbers - 2,000 and more of them - and they lapped it up.
“The fans who come and support us have been tremendous home and away,” said Evans.
“We’ve not been successful on the road enough times this season, but I said ‘Let’s just give them a Saturday. We’ve got no midweek game, let’s just give them a Saturday where they can go home and put their feet up or go for a beer or whatever they do and just have that winning feeling’.
“Winning feelings are the best feelings in the world.”
Rotherham could have scored more. Sammon should have done better in the first 10 minutes than shoot tamely at Alex Smithies, while Arnason’s 40th-minute header from Ben Pringle’s corner brought the save of the game from the Terriers keeper.
For the opposition, Vaughan found space from a Jacob Butterfield free-kick in the 13th minute to head just wide, while most of the rest of Town’s scarce threat came from the right-wing forays of Joe Lolley. Lolley can lick a man and isn’t scared to have a pop at goal (I’m sorry, I’ll stop that right now) but, with left-flank danger man Sean Scannell off his game, Chris Powell’s side didn’t offer up a great deal else.
Scannell should have pulled a goal back in the 68th minute when Adam Collin misjudged his run out of goal but the Huddersfield man failed to connect properly in front of an empty net.
The Millers were able to brush off the 74th-minute dismissal of Lee Frecklington - another tireless performer in red and white - for a second yellow card to such an extent that it was difficult to work out which side had 10 men.
“Scandalous,” said Evans, pointing the finger at Huddersfield midfielder and former Sheffield United man Conor Coady for the second caution. “It’s just a dive. It’s scandalous to get a fellow professional sent off. At the time, there was no response from the Huddersfield bench because they knew what their player had done.”
The red card for the popular midfield man was the only sour note on a near-perfect afternoon when Wigan, Millwall and Blackpool, all teams below the Millers, suffered defeats and Fulham, home losers against Bournemouth on Friday night, found themselves slipping below Evans’ battlers.
Moving up to 20th place provides a little pyschological boost for the Millers after a long spell of being the fourth-from-bottom club. This week, when managers, players and supporters check the league table, it’s the 21st-placed London club directly in the firing line of Wigan and Millwall in the scrap for safety.
On a day when the survival battle swung massively in Rotherham’s favour, there were joyous scenes at the end, reminiscent of the back-to-back promotions, as the Millers players and staff went to the ecstatic away end and badge-kissing Evans conducted the supporters’ cheers.
They all knew what this win could ultimately mean.
Huddersfield (4-5-1): Smithies 6; Smith 5, Hudson 6, Lynch 6 (Wallace 80), Robinson 5; Lolley 7 (Miller 58, 5), Hogg 5 (Majewksi 59, 5), Coady 5, Butterfield 5, Scannell 5; Vaughan 6. Subs not used: Murphy, Edgar, Miller, Carroll, Gobern.
Rotherham (4-5-1): Collin 6; Hunt 8, Rawson 8, Broadfoot 8, Lafferty 8; Sammon 8 (Richardson 90+3), Frecklington 7, Arnason 9, Smallwood 9, Pringle 6 (MIlsom 79); Derbyshire 6 (Bowery 82). Subs not used: Thompson, Newton, Fryers, Clarke-Harris.
Manager’s view - Steve Evans: “I said to my chairman this morning, ’I’ll get smashed if these changes don’t go right’. His response to me was ‘We’re trying to do something about it’. He has a little saying which is, ‘If I’m not doing something about it, what’s the opposite of that? Doing nothing about it’. We’ve popped above a little club like Fulham today. We’ve achieved nothing. But we’re worked our socks off today, we’ve shown fantastic organisation, we’ve had to be brave.”
Manager’s view - Chris Powell: “I’m angry and embarrassed. We quite clearly didn’t get going from the first minute. I can take losing if we put in a performance, but we quite clearly didn’t do that today. We started slowly and I thought our decision-making was poor. Joe Lolley was having some success and got our fans going, but as a team we weren’t there. We were nowhere near our last home performance. Rotherham quite clearly wanted it more than us today, and we cannot have that. We have to put in a performance over 90 minutes. We weren’t at the races, which has been the case three times this week. We can’t let that continue, because the fans don’t deserve it. You have to compete before you can show your skill and we haven’t done that. It wasn’t one or two - I can look at the whole team today, which isn’t great. There will be times when one or two players are off their game and the other nine or 10 drag them through, but we didn’t have that today. I’ll always do my best to back them, but I can’t after today’s performance. This was a game of some magnitude as we could have given ourselves a bit more daylight from Rotherham and the bottom three. We’re quite fortunate that the bottom three all lost, but let’s not shy away from anything - we’re still embroiled in the battle down there. We always have been.”
Hero: Farrend Rawson. The 18-year-old was pitched in for his first ever senior match and played like he’d been there for years. Now for the harsh realities of the pro game - he might not play next week with skipper Craig Morgan returning.
Key moment: Right-back Jack Hunt’s decision to be bold in the 44th minute. He tore through two defenders against his former club and his searching cross allowed Kari Arnason to open the scoring and set the Millers on their way.
Viewpoint: He gets critcism at times, he takes the criticism. How about a bit of praise for Steve Evans? Would you have had the bottle to hand a debut to a teenager who barely knew his teammates? No, me neither.
Referee watch: Carl Boyeson (East Yorkshire). He didn’t get everything right, but he didn’t get too much majorly wrong either. Lee Frecklington’s red card was harsh on a player who is a terrific competitor but not a dirty player.