Rotherham United: Farewell to Matt Derbyshire, a true Miller
His celebration was wild-eyed and crazy.
Rotherham United had just overcome Leeds United 2-1 with a penalty in time added on at a packed AESSEAL New York Stadium and striker Matt Derbyshire couldn’t contain his joy.
He bellowed in delight and jumped into the arms of the person next to him as the Millers took another unlikely step towards survival by beating yet another giant of the Championship.
Only he wasn’t on the pitch.
His victory embrace took place on the West Stand balcony where’d he kicked every ball and made every header after being sent off, unfairly, in the 61st minute for the first time in English football.
Where he was standing on that April 2 afternoon last season as Greg Halford stroked home the decisive spot-kick and the final whistle sounded moments later didn’t matter.
What did matter was winning. And Rotherham United.
Derbyshire may have tasted the big time in the Premier League with Blackburn Rovers and the Champions League with Olympiakos earlier in his career, but in his two seasons in South Yorkshire the team always came first.
Now the 30-year-old has gone, heading for a life in the Cyprus sunshine with Amonoia Nicosia and another chance of European football.
He scored 18 times in 74 appearances, and they’re not the figures of a top-class Championship striker, but Derbyshire’s contribution to the Millers’ cause can’t be measured purely by his goal output.
On the pitch, he ran hard, he worked hard, he never gave less than everything, he was twice top scorer. Off it, he strengthened the dressing room where his sharp wit and lack of edge made him a big figure.
His teammates loved him. Except maybe the one who drove to New York Stadium on the direction of Derbs’ April Fools’ Day phone call when everyone else was at the Roundwood training ground.
The victim thought he was picking up another player. He’d even bought coffees.
Derbyshire handled the serious business just as well, his nine goals in the second half of his first season doing as much as anything to keep Rotherham in the second tier.
There were eight more in his second year, although he will be remembered chiefly in that campaign for the selflessness that saw him convert from centre-forward to tireless operator on the left flank during the survival charge under Neil Warnock.
It took so much out of him he threatened retirement! But not before he’d joined that select band of Millers champions who have a scored a winner against Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough.
Richard Wood recalls turning to his left in central defence later in that March game, when the battle of S6 was at its fiercest and the Owls were pressing for an equaliser, to find a wiry, dark-haired frame stood alongside him snorting derby defiance.
Afterwards, with all due respect to the excellent Joe Mattock, Derbyshire managed to pipe up through his exhaustion to Warnock: “I’ll have the No 3 shirt now shall I, Gaffer? Best left-back we have!”
There were other crucial strikes too, against Bristol City and MK Dons, during that great escape.
Derbyshire was brought in as a marquee signing by Steve Evans just after the Millers had won the 2014 League One Play-off Final.
He was given the chance to resurrect a career which had stalled at Nottingham Forest, where he was shipped out on loan to Blackpool and Oldham, yet could hardly have endured a worst start.
There was a converted penalty in August in the Capital One Cup against Fleetwood, but It took him 15 Championship matches to register his first Millers league goal. The relief at New York was palpable when he finally broke his duck in the January 27 4-2 mauling of Bolton Wanderers.
It was a stunning strike too, and eight more goals followed in the next 19 games as Rotherham, despite a three-point Football League deduction, stayed up.
Nearly a year after joining, Derbyshire had arrived.
He had a brain as quick as his humour and found space where others couldn’t, although, frustratingly, sometimes the standards of his finishing didn’t match the quality of his work in the build-up.
He missed sitters. But scored some crackers.
He had poor games. But impressive ones too.
The fans didn’t like him at first. But then they did.
It looked at one stage that he might stay, but a club statement on Friday revealed that, after a meeting with new manager Alan Stubbs, there would be a parting of the ways.
There had been talks before Stubbs’ appointment, but Stubbs has his own ideas and maybe what the new man said wasn’t what the player wanted to hear. Derbyshire has been a regular mover throughout his career because he loves to play and doesn’t like to be out of the first-team frame.
Cyprus, where his manager will be former Newcastle United boss John Carver, is a new adventure. He enjoyed the lifestyle and climate during his years in Greece and, as a doting dad of three young kids, he can now give his family a taste of island life in the Mediterranean.
Evans rated him, saying he was good enough for a top-six Championship club. Evans’ successor, Neil Redfearn, was less of a fan and often named him as a substitute. Warnock loved his attitude and mobility.
My abiding memories will be of his impossibly white trainers, the loudness of his voice as he led the training-ground banter and the goal he scored in Bristol, in the match after the Leeds showdown, when his red card for supposedly elbowing right-back Gaetano Berardi had been rescinded.
Wood hit a long ball over the top of the City defence in the 12th minute and from then on everything Derbyshire did, if he wanted to silence a spiteful, baying home crowd, had to be flawless.
His run had been timed to take him into space, his mid-air touch killed a 70-yard pass stone dead and the lobbed finish as defenders closed in was simply exquisite.
Four days later, with a 4-0 triumph in Milton Keynes, Rotherham and Derbyshire had their second successful safety mission all but mathematically in the bag.
Not all of the Blackburn-born attacker’s time with the Millers was as perfect as that moment of night-time magic at Ashton Gate.
But he made more appearances for Rotherham than any other club and the fact he leaves so well respected and popular after such a torrid beginning is testimony to his impact.
The Millers were good for Matt Derbyshire. And Matt Derbyshire was good for the Millers.