Rotherham United: 10 heroes in panto-season comeback ... Millers 1 Plymouth Argyle 1
Forget the 12 days of Christmas. What about the 10 men of Rotherham?
Drawing with a Plymouth Argyle side down in the League One drop zone might not quite qualify as a festive miracle.
But, for the second week running, the Millers produced a second-half performance brimming with spirit and pride to salvage something just as all seemed lost.
They’d been a player light for more than half an hour, after Richard Wood’s sending-off, when the visitors went in front with just eight minutes to go at AESSEAL New York Stadium
It was cruel on Paul Warne’s men who, despite their numerical disadvantage, had kept on pressing for a breakthrough.
But, following last weekend’s fightback to win at Blackpool, they just kept coming.
Two minutes into time added on, their last chance looked to have gone when Kelle Roos saved from Joe Mattock. However, in the ensuing scramble the ball fell to Semi Ajayi and he forced it home in front of a gleeful North Stand.
Excited? “We’ve got a Semi on,” was the chant from delirious fans.
“The lads’ effort was pretty remarkable and I am proud of them,” Warne said. “They left everything out there for the team.
“If you go 1-0 down against anyone, you’ve still got a chance. The lads kept going and there were some excellent performances.”
The manager referenced the time of year as he reflected on the mad 92nd-minute game of ping-pong that led to Ajayi’s equaliser.
He grinned: “I am not saying it was panto season, but it was like: ‘Oh it’s in, no it’s not, oh it’s in, no it’s not, oh it is.’ It added to the theatre of it all. It was like ‘Pinball Wizard’, but it made it all the sweeter when it went it.”
Brave, battling Rotherham deserved all three points. The one they did gain kept them in ninth place and built a little more momentum after the victory at Broomfield Road.
Lacking a man, maybe. Lacking character, no way.
The first yellow card was unlucky, there were no complaints about the second. Whatever, two yellows equal one red and centre-half Wood found himself walking.
He’d been harshly cautioned in the first half when he appeared to make contact with the ball as he challenged Plymouth goalkeeper and Millers old boy Kelle Roos.
Five minutes after the interval, his touch let him down in the opposition half and he felled another former Rotherham man, striker Ryan Taylor, as he attempted to recover.
Wood had been controlling Taylor far better than he did the ball in that 50th-minute incident.
Midfielder Will Vaulks went into central defence and did well. We’ve seen that before. He moved there in the second half against Ipswich Town last April when Ajayi was injured and helped keep a certain Kieffer Moore goalless.
“After Woody got sent off, I remember looking at the clock and thinking the lads were doing well and it must be 75 minutes,” Warne said. “It was 62 minutes and I am thinking: ‘Wow, it’s a really long afternoon.’
“If you’d have asked me when Woody got sent off would I have taken a point, I would have.”
The talk was of pantomimes, so the match had to have a hero and a villain.
Ajayi stepped up in the dying seconds to be the Millers’ leading man. Taylor, having been given a warm reception before kick-off, was roundly booed when he scored with a flying near-post header from a corner and celebrated by blowing a kiss to the West Stand.
Taylor is a Rotherham lad and it was all a misunderstanding.
“It was for my dad. He had a bit of bad news this week,” he said. “It wasn’t anything to do with the Rotherham fans. My family were there behind the dugout so I was going over to them.”
The Millers, with some of David Ball’s contributions a joy to behold, played some flowing football. 22nd-placed Plymouth had come to defend.
Roos was a disaster in a Rotherham loan spell in 2015 and pulled off possibly his first good New York save to deny Ryan Williams when the winger scampered clear in the 17th minute.
Wood’s dismissal changed the game, but not the Millers’ intent. Before and after Taylor’s strike, the 10 men created chances. Yet time was almost up.
“I thought, first half, we were the only team trying to win the game,” Warne said. “We’re going to have to get used to teams turning up and playing for a point and trying to get us on the counter-attack.
“If Willo had scored his goal and we’d have gone 1-0 up, that would have drawn Plymouth out and it could have been a more comfortable afternoon, but it turned out to be a right old battle.”
Gloriously, Rotherham got their reward as Ajayi delivered his last-gasp panto punch-line.
Did it feel like a win?
Oh yes it did.