Rotherham United: Heroics don't always get what they deserve ... Ipswich Town 2 Millers 2
For now, let’s stick with Richard Wood. He won’t attract the headlines like his two-goal teammate but at Portman Road he was a leader of men on an afternoon of Rotherham heroes.
Leader. Captain for the day. Proud of the armband. Proud of the shirt.
He led by example as the bottom-placed Millers showed huge signs of improvement in only new boss Kenny Jackett’s second match in charge and he hurt as much as anyone at the end when Ipswich grabbed an equaliser they simply didn’t deserve with the last meaningul kick of the game.
The Millers barely had time to kick off before the referee blew the final whistle.
One of Jackett’s first moves as manager was to restore Wood, frozen out by the previous regime, to the Championship side, and it’s plain how much being back means to the experienced centre-half.
He epitomised everything that was good about Rotherham on a day when Rotherham played like a Rotherham United side.
He powered away defensive headers, relished every duel, covered the ground, made tackles, was always in the right place. He talked, he encouraged, he even found the breath to appeal for throw-ins that were clearly Ipswich’s.
He knows his limitations and plays to his strengths. The heart of the defence. The heart of the side.
After conceding a poor third-minute goal when Greg Halford needlessly fouled Grant Ward and Freddie Sears nipped in at the near post from the free-kick, the Millers showed they’re already a different proposition with Jackett in charge.
No longer do they look like they could concede every time the ball is around their penalty area.
Ward had them level with a close-range volley just four minutes after Town’s opener when Jon Taylor got up well to head the ball into the danger zone after a corner and, two minutes after the break, he struck again, a clever volley converting Will Vaulks’ long throw.
Ipswich pushed but Rotherham repelled. There was workrate, organisation, appplication and desire all over the pitch and victory was in their grasp until David McGoldrick wrenched guts with a stunning 25-yard finish - Town’s only effort on target in the second half.
So stout had been the away team’s resistance that, by the 82nd minute, home fans were abusing Ipswich manager Mick McCarthy and chanting: “We’re supposed to be at home.”
“It was a soft first goal, and you can be critical. Our near-post area wasn’t well-covered. Sears put it away very well,” Jackett said. “At that stage, two and a half minutes in, you do fear the worst. It was a very good response from the players.
“I’m not letting them off that first goal because I’ve spoken about the importance of set-pieces, but the response after that was very, very good right through the game. That’s something we can build our season on.
“It was a terrific strike from McGoldrick. I was consistently trying for the last 15 minutes to get one of the midfield players to man-mark him because I know he has that quality if the ball does drop to him.”
The ending was horribly cruel. But focus on the point, on the performance. When the dust has settled on the late agony, we might all look back on October 29 as being a pivotal moment in the season.
Eight goals in 15 league matches for a team eight points adrift of safety tell most of the story about just how well striker Ward has done for the Millers this season.
The rest of it unfolds in his ceaseless running, mobility, sharpness on the ball and how, at times, his strength, pace and directness are simply too much for opposition defences to handle.
“Does he take penalties?” asked one of the Ipswich press gang, unable to believe the 24-year-old’s scoring stats.
Afterwards, Wood stopped by on his way to the team coach and managed a smile through the pain of last-gasp heartache. “Wardy,” he said. “He was a joke today. How good was he?”
The draw meant the Millers avoided two very unwanted records.
Defeat would have brought eight straight losses in the same season for the first time and would have meant starting a campaign with eight consecutive away reverses - something else they have never done.
Will Vaulks - who had an excellent game in midfield in place of injured Lee Frecklington - and Jackett, neither having heard the other’s interview, used the same phrase: “We’ve stopped the rot.”
Jackett is an encouragingly grounded character, making no attempt to play down the size of the task facing his side in trying to stay in this division while still maintaining the belief that it’s possible.
“We have to be realistic with our league position with me taking over and, obviously, the size of the club in the Championship,” he said.
“We have to be very organised. We do need to work very hard. Small details make a big difference. If we can keep competing with that type of attitude and, at the right time, play some good football, which we did, we can come up with an effective way of playing.”
The Millers can take inspiration from the man standing in as skipper in Frecklington’s absence.
Discarded, not good enough, written off ... now showing what commitment to the cause is all about and ready to give anyone a game.
If Wood can do it, maybe Rotherham can.