It wasn’t always a crazy, unforgettable day that will go down in Rotherham United folklore, and for a time Lee Camp cut a forlorn figure.
The Millers goalkeeper had kept his side in the game in the first half against Derby County with two stunning saves but now he was being mercilessly taunted by the fans of his former club.
The unstoppable visitors, putting the Ram into rampant, had produced a nine-minute second-half blitz to lead 3-0 and the away followers in front of whom poor Camp stood delighted in his misery.
“Campy, Campy, what’s the score?” rang out from a packed South Stand from 2,600-plus supporters who have never forgiven him for going on later in his career to play for their hated rivals, Nottingham Forest. “Campy, what’s the score?”
Nine mad, manic minutes later, the chant burst forth again even louder. Only this time it came from home fans. Somehow, the Millers, utterly outclassed until their late fightback began, had grabbed three goals to level matters.
Rotherham remain in the drop zone, but this remarkable refusal to accept their fate and 10 points from their last four fixtures show how up they are for their survival battle under Neil Warnock, now seven games into his 16-match escape act.
“When they came in I sat them down and told them that if we had been beaten 3-0 I would still have said to them ‘well done this week, lads’ for the effort they have put in,” he said.
The draw came at the end of an eight-day spell which included famous wins over Sheffield Wednesday and Middlesbrough, and the manager added: “They have given me everything.
“Derby were just better than us. All right, we made a couple of silly mistakes, but you don’t see that camaraderie very often.
“I have seen that only at promotion sides, so it’s great for me to see that develop. I do enjoy developing a squad into something. I’m not in it for that long, so I want to enjoy my squad, and I am enjoying this lot.”
In my time covering the Millers, I’ve witnessed some incredible things. I watched the Wembley comeback in the League One Play-off Final, was there for Adam Collin’s triple save at Norwich City and stood agog as tie-waving former boss Steve Evans defied gravity to remain on the West Stand balcony when his side stayed up last season.
But I’ve never seen anything like this.
On 82 minutes, the Millers were dead. Buried. Done. Dusted. They had shown no lack of desire, but the best display by a visiting team at AESSEAL New York Stadium this campaign had been simply too much for them.
Camp had denied Tom Ince and Chris Martin before the break, yet could do nothing as Ince shot home sweetly from the edge of the area after 55 minutes, Martin applied a far-post close-in touch on 63 minutes and Ince took advantage of Danny Collins’ underhit back-pass seconds after the restart.
Then two things happened. Warnock, stone-faced and focused, introduced one-time Ram Leon Best and Joe Newell for Matt Derbyshire and Paul Green, while Derby boss Darren Wassell, laughing and joking with some of the Rams contingent in the West Stand, pulled off two of his best players, Martin and George Thorne, to bring on strikers Darren Bent and Nick Blackman.
The ex-Derby man changed the game.
Two minutes after Grant Ward had played in Danny Ward to reduce the arrears with a smart 83rd-minute shot, Best scrappily headed home his first ever Rotherham goal to offer sudden hope of an unlikely turnaround.
As New York reached fever pitch, the improbable gave way to the nigh on impossible. Two minutes into four of time added on, with Derby’s purebreds panic-stricken and red-and-white shirts speeding everywhere, Leon the lion wanted it most and rose highest at the back post to power home Danny Ward’s brilliant hooked delivery from the left.
“I saw their bench celebrating quite a lot at 3-0,” Warnock said. “I didn’t see them celebrating at 3-3. I was quite pleased about that.”
The Camp chorus was the soundtrack to a truly epic Millers response. The keeper is a popular man around these parts, and the Rotherham faithful deliriously defended one of their own.
As the final whistle blew, would he be defiant enough to turn round and give his now-silent tormentors a bit back? You bet he was!
Then he went the length of the pitch to celebrate with his trademark clenched-fist salute at the kop end where fifth-placed Derby’s defence had been ripped apart.
“Baffling. Inexplicable. Inexcusable,” said Wassell.
“Pride. Heart. Knackered,” replied Warnock.
“Besty told me he would score,” he revealed. “I don’t think he thought it would be the equaliser when he went on!
“”I’m so proud of them. This is the sweetest result since I’ve been here. We might have lesser ability, but we make up for it with an abundance of what’s under the shirt. Derby will be going home feeling they have lost, and quite rightly.
“I think this is the Championship result of the season, let alone the day. I don’t think there will be another like that this season at this level. It’s just incredible. I don’t know about the players, it’s me that needs the full week off. I am knackered.”
The knackered Messiah has promised his players an extra day of rest this week, and no-one deserves it more than Danny Ward.
Mr Motion, looking a tired but happy man, stood outside the dressing room afterwards, perhaps the one and only time of the entire afternoon he wasn’t on the move.
After his first goals in nearly two years, Best, an avid healthy eater who really looks after himself, went home for a rare treat of his favourite chocolate McVities. “One per goal,” he grinned. “Then a few more!”
Nothing like the heady excesses, then, that Millers followers are revelling in under their new manager. This is Rotherham. Warnock’s Rotherham. For now, normal rules don’t apply.
And if anyone is still having trouble grasping the events of a frankly unbelievable Saturday afternoon, they know who to ask.
“Campy, Campy, what’s the score?”
Rotherham United (4-2-3-1): Camp 8; Kelly 6, Broadfoot 8, Collins 5, Mattock 6; Green 6 (Best 69, 8), Smallwood 6; Derbyshire 6 (Newell 69, 7), Frecklington 6, Thomas 5 (G Ward 31, 6); D Ward 9. Subs not used: Kenny, Doyley, Burke, Clarke-Harris.
Derby County (4-1-4-1): Carson 6; Christie 6, Keogh 6, Shackell 7, Olsson 7; Thorne 8(Blackman 75); Ince 8, Hendrick 7, Bryson 7, Johnson 7; Martin 8 (Bent 75). Subs not used: Grant, Buxton, Butterfield, Weimann, Hanson.
Goals: Ince 55, 64, Martin 63 (Derby); D Ward 83, Best 85, 90+2 (Rotherham).
Referee: David Webb (Lancashire).
Attendance: 11,163 (2,621).