Rotherham United match verdict and reaction: Millers 2 Hull City 0
A Christmas classic. The miracle of Christmas. The fairytale of New York.
Call it what you will, but the Millers pulled off a sporting shock to rival Ali knocking out Foreman, Japan beating South Africa at rugby union and Great Britain winning the Davis Cup.
Okay, okay, I’m getting carried away. Maybe I had a bit too much of a festive tipple to celebrate on Saturday night after Rotherham marked their final match before Yuletide with a performance brimming with passion, endeavour and quality.
Beforehand, who had them to see off a team who were in the Premier League last season in such thrilling fashion? Who had them to see off Hull City at all?
There were two big losers on the day: Steve Bruce’s side, who could have gone second in the Championship but were stunned by the standard and spirit of the home side, and B&Q, who had to throw away a clutch of job applications which had arrived after the Millers’ midweek loss at Huddersfield Town.
Manager Neil Redfearn had suggested alternative careers with the DIY giants for some of his players when they capitulated 2-0 at the John Smith’s Stadium on Tuesday night.
But his post-match blast and the three changes he made brought the perfect response, with the Millers, hugely lifted by this result, once more reducing the gap between them and a place out of the drop zone to a single point.
“It was well deserved, to be honest, right from the first minute,” Redfearn said. “Hull had quite a bit of possession, but they are a good side; they are going to have the ball.
“There were some harsh words said after Huddersfield and you can put one or two noses out of joint, but that is football. At the end of the day, it’s a business. We have got to get results. It needed saying at the time.
“We had a good reaction. The lads really responded well. They fought today, but we have played as well. We passed it. We looked like a good side.
“We talked through the week about them having the ball and about how we would have to be patient. I thought we pressed brilliantly. As a performance, it was really pleasing.”
Skipper Lee Frecklington smashed in a penalty in the 27th minute, after Kirk Broadfoot had been tripped by Moses Odubajo, to give Rotherham a lead they deserved and left-footed Joe Newell showed nimble feet before firing in a right-footed beauty 12 minutes into the second half for a winning margin few dared to imagine ahead of kick-off.
Redfearn talked of “stellar” individual displays and he was right as his band of B&Q brothers showed all the character required to win a battle for second-tier survival.
First there was the gardening section, staffed by midfielders Frecklington, Newell, Richie Smallwood, Luke Hyam and Grant Ward who left no blade of grass uncovered as they kept digging and digging at their more illustrious opponents.
Then came the paint department, led by Broadfoot and his team. No second or third coats needed here for extra protection as the Rotherham defence got a head or a foot on virtually everything that came their way.
Everyone spent some of their shift in lighting, illuminating AESSEAL New York Stadium with their non-stop, energy-sapping effort.
And then there was Danny Ward. Like that unruly kid in every hardware superstore who isn’t being watched by his parents, he sped up corridors and tore down gangways in his lone striker’s role, annoying Hull to the point of complete distraction.
He and Broadfoot were brilliant, and the forward deserved the standing ovation he received as he trooped off wearily with barely a jog left in him in the 80th minute.
“I thought Danny was outstanding,” said Redfearn. “I have said all along that I like him. I tried to sign him when I was at Leeds.
“The kid’s got ability. The trick now is to try and keep him fit and out there and get the ball into him where he can go and hurt people. I think there are goals in him because he is a good finisher.
“He’s an athlete, he’s a strong boy, he can climb and his touch is good. It’s about getting people in a better situations and giving them confidence to go and play, and he looked confident today.”
Freck had obviously been taking spot-kick lessons from Jonson Clarke-Harris so ferocously did he find the net, and he was pressed into action because the young striker was missing from the starting 11.
The omission of the leading scorer was the boldest of Redfearn’s changes as he went for Ward up front in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Knives were out on social media before action commenced as he was accused of playing for a draw, but the manager’s bravery was vindicated by the Millers’ best showing of the season.
Hull hit the post twice in the second half through Chuba Akpom, one of the chances a sitter as Farrend Rawson slipped over in the 83rd minute to leave the striker clean through, and, to the delight of the home faithful, Harry Maguire, once of Sheffield United, missed an easy header four minutes later.
Before the interval, with Rotherham already leading, Lee Camp dived full length to keep out Jake Livermore’s header and somehow blocked Akpom’s close-range effort, which looked to have a large dose of handball about it, on the line.
Against that, Newell could have scored in the 50th minute when a mazy dribble took him past three players only for him to stab the ball wide while City keeper Allan McGregor’s hands were probably still stinging on Sunday morning after he got them to Grant Ward’s piledriver in time added on.
By some quirk of footballing fate, four of Rotherham’s five wins this season, against Cardiff, Birmingham, Leeds, Bristol and Hull, have come against sides who share the same last name.
So how one wishes Bolton City not Wanderers were next up at New York, on Boxing Day, when Rotherham must make the most of a golden opportunity against the division’s bottom club.
“I have said all along there will be games that we expect to win and we’ll get beat and there’ll be games where we expect to get beat and we will win,” Redfearn said. “As sure as eggs are eggs, that’s what’s happened today.
“What we have got to do is focus and get something out of the game against Bolton to maximise this three points.
“That’s three wins in the last six. There won’t be many that have gone on a run like that, so we can take heart from that. We had the belief today, which is important.”
Bolton will be a very different challenge to the Tigers, and the onus on Redfearn’s men on December 26 will be to break down struggling opponents rather than stop high-flying ones playing.
For now, the Millers can bask in the amazing turnaround between that dreadful derby in West Yorkshire and super Saturday when New York and the Millers jingle-bells-rocked.
Not even B&Q can do home improvements like that.
Rotherham United (4-2-3-1): Camp 8; Kelly 7 (Buxton H-T, 7), Rawson 8, Broadfoot 9, Mattock 8; Smallwood 9, Hyam 7; G Ward 8, Frecklington 8 (Andreu 84), Newell 8; D Ward 9 (Clarke-Harris 80). Subs not used: Collin, Collins, Green, Derbyshire.
Hull City (4-4-2): McGregor 6; Odubajo (Diame 55) 6, Davies 6, Maguire 6, Robertson 6; Elmohamady 7, Meyler 5 (Huddlestone 67, 6), Livermore 5, Maloney 6; Akpom 6, Hernández 5 (Diomande 67, 6). Subs not used: Jakupović, Taylor, Clucas, Hayden.
Goals: Frecklington pen 27, Newell 57.
Referee: Eddie Ilderton (Tyne & Wear).
Attendance: 10,355 (2,571).