Rotherham United match verdict: Millers 1 Brighton 0

Matt Derbyshire scores. Picture: Richard Parkes
Matt Derbyshire scores. Picture: Richard Parkes
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There was one minute of silence, so immaculately observed by both sets of fans it made you proud to be part of football.

And then there were 93 minutes of nothing but noise as Rotherham United gave it everything and took a giant step towards Championship survival in their Easter-Monday clash with Brighton.

Just before kick-off came that poignant 60-second tribute to Millers fan John Fearns who so tragically died before the Sheffield Wednesday derby two weeks earlier.

Home supporters - and well done Brighton followers too - did one of their own, and his watching family, proud, and the roar which greeted the referee’s whistle that brought a moving scene to its end set the tone for what was to come.

At an AESSEAL New York Stadium at its bristling, bouncing, raucous, red-and-white best, Rotherham, fighting back after four successive defeats, moved seven points clear of the drop zone with only five matches to go.

Afterwards, delighted manager Steve Evans refused to set safety targets, saying: “Seven points clear is better than four but not as good as nine.”

Richie Smallwood, the midfielder who seems to turn in one man-of-the-match performance after another, was a little more direct. “One more win should do it,” he said.

The Millers, playing 4-4-2 and much changed from the side which lost 2-1 at Birmingham City on Good Friday, went at Brighton from the off, and the decibel level, already close to fever pitch, went up another notch in the eighth minute when Evans’ men took a lead they would never relinquish.

Paul Green and Jordan Bowery did really well in a tight space on the right flank and Bowery’s perfect cross was met by an even better volley as Matt Derbyshire got across his marker to direct the ball across Brighton keeper David Stockdale into the goal.

Everyone knew the importance of this fixture, and in the spring sunshine Rotherham turned up the heat, hounding their opponents relentlessly.

With Brighton’s final ball throughout the first half too poor to give the Millers any real trouble, Bowery should have made it 2-0 in the 26nd minute but his header as Kirk Broadfoot headed back across goal from Ben Pringle’s free-kick was over the bar, then Derbyshire fed Green from Pringle’s cross only for the recalled midfield man to somehow direct his close-in shot wide.

The visitors came out fighting after the break and the home side, with plenty of defending to do, were indebted to keeper Emi Martinez who spread himself superbly to deny Beram Kayal as he scampered through on goal in the 55th minute.

But Derbyshire could have settled the contest in the 71st minute as great work from Daniel Lafferty played him through on goal only for Stockdale to produce a smart save and substitute Danny Ward shot agonisingly wide of the far post in the 87th minute after deft work between Richie Smallwood and Derbyshire had released him.

Evans said of the occasion and atmosphere: “In terms of pressure match situations, it has got to be up there with last year’s play-offs with the home game with Preston.

“It’s not up there with Wembley (2014 League One Play-off Final win), but certainly up there the Preston game and the Aldershot promotion game on the last day (in 2012/13) because we should not forget the prize is so big for us in terms of staying in this division.

“We have had to put the last four defeats behind us, especially the Sheffield Wednesday one, which was hard to take. We have had to regroup as a unit. The players gave us and the supporters everything.”

There were nervous moments, but Rotherham, playing with their hearts and heads and with that fabulous following urging them on, emerged triumphant. They were deserved victors, but the win was all that mattered, not the manner of it.

Figuratively, the New York roof almost came off at the final whistle as, fittingly, a vital game which started with such moving silence ended with the loudest roar of all.

Rotherham United (4-4-2): Martinez; Hunt, Broadfoot, Rawson, Lafferty; Green, Smallwood, Arnason, Pringle; Derbyshire, Bowery (Ward 77). Subs unused: Collin, Frecklington, Milsom, Newton, Hammill, Rowe.

Brighton (4-1-4-1: Stockdale; Saltor, Halford, Dunk, Bennett; Ince; Carayol (Teixeira 81), Stephens, Kayal, Lua Lua (Mickail-Smith 75); O’Grady (Best H-T). Subs unused: Walton, Hughes, Calderon, Forster-Caskey.

Referee: Kevin Wright (Cambridgeshire).

Attendance: 9,872 (982).