AFTER more than 17 months — and clocking up almost 6,000 miles on the team bus — it was party time for Rotherham United at Portsmouth yesterday.
The Millers hadn’t won away in 27 attempts — dating back to a 4-0 thumping of MK Dons on April 9, 2016 under former boss Neil Warnock.
Arriving at Fratton Park on a drizzly Sunday afternoon in front of the TV cameras, hopes among the Rotherham faithful were low.
But after a gritty, hard-fought performance from a side which included five changes from the defeat to Charlton, the wait was finally over — Rotherham United had secured three points on the road.
READ: Re-live the action as it happened and reaction from Rotherham's win at Portsmouth
Paul Warne led the celebrations at the final whistle. He punched the air with delight before orchestrating the party in front of the 436 committed Millers faithful who made the trip.
While Warne, his team and his fans had every reason to mark the occasion and had more than earned a drink or two on the long journey home, there was a strange feeling that there had been an upset.
Defender Richard Wood admitted after the game “it’s a strange feeling winning away and getting a clean sheet” — but now that the monkey is off the players’ backs, Paul Warne has to use the game to motivate his team.
The Millers were relegated from the Championship last season and beat a team promoted from League Two — that was the reality of what happened.
And going off the performance at Portsmouth — which was hard-working, solid defensively and with a good shape throughout — they have no reason to fear anybody in this league, whether it be at home or away.
Taylor runs off in celebration at Fratton Park (Pic: Jim Brailsford)
The conditions led to a scrappy start to the game but it also meant there were lots of half-chances early on.
That said the Millers never really looked like conceding — some of that was undoubtedly down to the hosts being wasteful in the final third — but Wood and central defensive partner Michael Ihiekwe looked solid throughout.
Wingers Jon Taylor and Ryan Williams did their best to support lone striker Kieffer Moore, who pressed from the first to the 90th minute.
It was a moment of class from Taylor that was to be the difference between the two sides.
Williams played a great through-ball to the former Peterborough winger who had cut across the back-four before he fired the ball home on 36 minutes — a move Taylor admitted they had been practising on the training ground.
The end-to-end theme to the game continued but once again the Millers’ back-four stood firm and any chances Pompey had never really troubled Richard O’Donnell in goal.
Midfielder Darren Potter did clear a Conor Hawkins chance off the line just after the hour mark.
Vaulks keeps the ball against Pompey (Pic: Jim Brailsford)
The hosts piled on the pressure with countless corners in quick succession but a mixture of good defending and poor finishing meant the Millers faithful in the corner of Fratton Park could begin to dream.
Pompey also had a shout for a penalty when Hawkins had to be bandaged up after a collision with Ihiekwe but referee Gavin Ward waved play on.
The Millers withheld everything the hosts threw at them, including in the six minutes of added time which included the introduction of deadline day capture Richie Towell for his debut, and the wait was finally over — Rotherham had won away.
Scrappy? Possibly. Pretty? It certainly wasn’t but it was definitely deserved and the game now has to act as a benchmark for the rest of the season.
Millers: O’Donnell (7), Cummings (6), Ihiekwe (7), Wood (8), Purrington (7), Williams (7) (Forde 53 5), Potter (6), Frecklington (5) (Towell 90), Vaulks (6), Taylor (8) (Newell 84), Moore (8).
Subs not used: Bilboe, Ajayi, Ball, Clarke-Harris.
Att: 17,118 (436 away)
Referee: Gavin Ward