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Millers prove they belong in the Championship

Based on Rotherham’s performance against Derby, the Football League ought to be desperate to be keep them in the Championship.

The Millers made a mockery of the table and belied their small-club image, which boss Steve Evans thinks causes decisions to go against them, as they matched the promotion-chasing Rams, full of Premier League quality, in a thrilling encounter at the AESSEAL New York Stadium.

In fact, for the opening 15 minutes of the second half they had them on the rack and threatened to leave Steve McClaren’s men red faced.

Quickfire goals from Richie Smallwood and Matt Derbyshire – his fourth in five games – put the Millers 3-1 up and on the cusp of a famous victory.

But with Derby looking as if they were out for the count, the hosts were reminded of just how fine the margins are in this division.

In the midst of their red-hot spell, Derbyshire almost made it 4-1 with a vicious effort which needed a stunning finger-tip save from Lee Grant to turn it over the bar.

From the resulting corner, the visitors broke and made it 3-2. Momentum changed.

And from the point on, there was an air of inevitability about Derby’s onslaught which, heartbreakingly for the hosts, was rewarded with an 83rd-minute equaliser from Darren Bent.

It resulted in a mixture of emotions if you were of a red and white persuasion. 

Before the game most people would have taken a point and at 3-2 with the Derby Alamo in full swing, again a lot of people would have taken a point.

But among the content at the performance and result is the disappointing fact that Evans’ men were 3-1 up with 25 minutes to go and they were unable to hold on for a win which would have done wonders for their battle against the drop.

As it is, if the Millers can replicate this level of performance for the remainder of the season, McClaren’s post-match assertion that Rotherham are “too strong” to go down will be proved resoundingly right.

Despite their pre-match billing of heavy outsiders, it never panned out that way for the hosts as they held their own in an even opening 20 minutes, with Danny Ward missing a decent chance to put them ahead when he headed straight at Grant.

Then Derby began to flex their muscles and showed through the attacking talent of Tom Ince, Bent, Will Hughes and Jamie Ward exactly why they will probably go on and win promotion to the Premier League.

Bent had an effort scrambled away by Adam Collin and then Ward had two quickfire shots, the second of which should have been converted.

It was in the build-up to Ward’s second chance where Millers defender Jack Hunt suffered a knee injury serious enough to see him carried off on a stretcher and hold up play for six minutes.

The delay actually helped the Millers take the sting out of the game and enabled them to take a 35th-minute lead.

A cleared corner from Ben Pringle was sent back in to the far post where Kirk Broadfoot headed it back across goal for Paul Green to tap home.

But the cheers had barely stopped by the time the Rams were level and it was yet another reminder that things are never easy in this division as the hosts succumbed to a moment of brilliance.

Not too dissimilar to Craig Conway’s strike for Blackburn last week, the mercurial Ince stepped inside and whacked an unstoppable effort into the top corner.

There was a sense that the opening period of the second half was going to be crucial and that’s how it proved as the Millers stunned their visitors.

They went in ahead with a collector’s item in the 49th minute as Smallwood curled in a free-kick with enough precision to ensure that if nobody got on the end of it, it would go into the top corner.

It was his first goal in a Millers shirt and a high-profile reward for the endless unseen donkey work the midfielder does for the side.

Five minutes later and it was dreamland for Rotherham.

Derbyshire, with a spring in his step and an extra yard of pace, capitalised on a defensive error and surged through on goal.

As he broke into the area there seemed little doubt that the ball would end up anywhere but in the back of the net – an assurance at odds with his early-season woes.

That strike took his tally to four goals in five games and was a reward for a fine performance in leading the line.

His running of the channels and hold-up play gave Jake Buxton the sternest of tests and his ability to sync-up seamlessly with Danny Ward or Connor Sammon suddenly gives the Millers a real attacking threat.

If Derbyshire’s next act had ended in a goal it would have sealed a famous victory.

But his vicious effort from 20 yards was somehow saved by Grant and it proved to be the decisive moment in the game.

After the resulting corner was cleared, the Rams broke down the left and Ince turned in his second of the night.

You just knew what was in store for the remaining 25 minutes. The only question that needed answering was whether Derby were going to score again or Rotherham were going to hold on.

It looked for a long time like it might be the latter as the Millers thwarted, blocked and cleared everything McClaren’s men threw at them.

Then with seven minutes of normal time remaining the incessant pressure finally told as they advanced down the left and, in the face of some sloppy defending, Bent was able to poke home a leveller.

It set up a frantic finale, where the odds would have been on Derby snatching a winner, but it was the Millers who could have had the final say when Derbyshire headed over from close range.

That miss ensured it ended all square, with McClaren describing it as a vital point for his side.

The manner in which it came for Rotherham might just turn out to be vital as well as if they can replicate anything like this performance in forthcoming home games then mid-table security beckons.

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