PAUL Warne was biting down on his snood and looking to the sky.
Tony Stewart was on his feet in the stand shouting the obvious: "Come on, we need a goal."
This was Rotherham United, this was Rotherham at Luton Town in the penultimate fixture of a cruel and gruelling run-in, this was Rotherham with their season on the line.
Manager and chairman were bonded in their desire for a victory that would have left the Millers' Championship survival fate in their own hands.
In the end, they had to settle for a draw; a good result at any other stage of the season but not on this night of spurned opportunities and only a single point that left their hopes of safety looking almost as forlorn as dilapidated Kenilworth Road.
"It was pretty indicative of our season up to now, - loads of endeavour, loads of hard work, loads of organisation but we were just missing a little bit of quality in the final third," Warne said.
"We created enough chances to win - as did Luton - and we just haven't taken one. There have been some brilliant crosses into the box that we should have got on the end of and put away.
"Unfortunately, we didn't. That sort of sums us up: one effort away from greatness. If ever there was a night to win a game it was tonight but unfortunately we just fell short."
Now it's on to Cardiff City on Saturday for a final-day shoot-out Rotherham have to win while hoping old rivals Sheffield Wednesday can do them a favour at Derby County.
The Millers' waywardness in front of goal is a contributing factor to being in the bottom three but maybe an even bigger one is the schedule imposed on them by all those Covid and weather postponements earlier in the campaign.
This was their 11th outing in 33 days and Warne said: "The whole pile-up of fixtures has killed us. We haven't really played badly in it but we haven't been as sharp as I would have liked."
His team were averaging a point per game before the chaos began. Only six have come in those 11 matches since.
The welcome was friendlier than anyone of a Rotherham persuasion could have expected.
"I hope we lose tonight," a member of Luton staff cheerily piped up to assorted nods from colleagues while bags and temperatures were being checked.
The 12th-placed Hatters are punching well above their weight in the second tier and warm to another underdog. Better the Millers than the Rams or the Owls.
Sadly, the sentiment didn't stretch as far as the home squad. Warne and their boss, Nathan Jones, are old pals from their playing days together at Yeovil Town but no quarter was asked or given even though the Hatters were, figuratively, already on the beach.
It was a full-blooded, hard-fought contest and the Millers manager said: "I'm a little bit insulted by people who aren't in football suggesting that anything other than that would happen.
"I'm very close to Nath' but I haven't phoned him or texted him for three or four weeks because I didn't want there to be any 'integrity' shout.
"Professional sportspeople just want to be the best. If me and him played five-a-side against each other I'd try to kick him all over. Professional people don't want to lose at anything."
In the first half, Elijah Adebayo flashed a first-half shot inside Jamal Blackman's near post and smacked the bar while the frame of the goal rescued the visitors again when the goalkeeper got hands to a corner that looked to be creeping in.
At the other end, Ryan Giles' quality delivery from the left was asking to be headed in but Michael Smith turned down the invitation by glancing it wide.
Then Matt Crooks' deft touch beat everyone and everything except the post and bounced back into Luton keeper Simon Sluga's grateful hands.
"Come on, 20 minutes," Warne implored as time began to tick down on the second half and, potentially, his team's stay in the Championship.
Jamal Blackman makes a save
Crooks' back-post header was an even clearer opening than Smith's had been but the outcome was the same.
That chance, this game, the whole season. "That sort of sums us up: one effort away from greatness."
Rotherham went 4-4-2, throwing Crooks up front with substitute Freddie Ladapo and trying to utilise the pace of Giles and Chiedozie Ogbene on the wings.
A late Lewis Wing free-kick that brought a scrambling save from Sluga was all they could muster and they were relieved late on when Sonny Bradley's goal was ruled out, a decision that left Jones apoplectic.
The Hatters had handed the Millers nothing and Warne wouldn't have had it any other way.
"Professional sportspeople get to the level they're at because they're winners, because they're competitive, because they hate losing," he said.
"There was no question about how much Luton wanted to beat us in this game and how much Blackburn wanted to beat us in the previous one.
"Blackburn came to New York and were like Real Madrid at times. I'm well aware of the integrity of the managers in this division. It's kept things fair."
ON TO SATURDAY
It's not over yet but Warne was reflecting after Tuesday's contest on the 'what might have beens'.
"I still believe that, with a decision here and there, we could be ten points better off," he said. "It's hard for me to swallow at the moment.
"It feels like we're better than our points tally. Luton have had a great season and I've got a lot of time for them but I'm not sure the divide between the two clubs is a big as the league table says.
"We've come here tonight jaded and tried to give everything we've got. Unfortunately, we have fallen short."
Talking of friendly faces, I got lost as I made my way out of the stadium and found myself wandering through the Eric Morecambe Lounge where smiling images of the Hatters' famous late fan beamed down on me.
Another 'nearly' night for the Millers. I drove home in the rain just hoping that Saturday brings some sunshine.
Jamal Blackman: 6
Few saves to make. Pushed a corner on to the post when it looked to be sneaking in.
Michael Ihiekwe: 7
Competed well and was always alert to any danger.
Richard Wood: 7
As always, led by example. A presence in both boxes and fought for everything.
Wes Harding: 7
Solid at the back despite playing on his wrong side.
Matt Olosunde: 5
Hasn’t been the same player since his stunning display against Everton on January. Looked nervy and fatigued.
Lewis Wing: 7
Lovely control of the ball. Behind most of the Millers’ best play.
Dan Barlaser: 7
Some good passing changed defence to attack very quickly.
Matt Crooks: 7
Unlucky not to score in the first half and then should have scored in the second. His size and energy were a big weapon for the Millers.
Ryan Giles: 7
Coming good towards the end of the season. Quick, positive and delivered some excellent crosses.
Ben Wiles: 6
His speed and mobility are always a threat but lost the ball too often.
Michael Smith: 6
Headed wide a great first-half chance. As industrious as ever and had the legs on the opposition centre-halves when the ball was played long but not his most effective night.
Chiedozie Ogbene (for Olosunde 66): 5
Wasted a good moment when he had a sight of goal. Needed to back himself more and be more direct. Pace to burn but didn’t use it enough.
Freddie Ladapo (for Smith 66): 5
No goals in seven matches. Couldn’t step up when Rotherham needed him to.
Joe Mattock (for Barlaser 74): NA
Steady enough after coming on when the Millers switched to 4-4-2.
Not used: Viktor Johansson, Angus MacDonald, Shaun MacDonald, Jamie Lindsay, Florian Jozefzoon, Kieran Sadlier.
Luton (4-2-3-1): Simon Sluga 6; James Bree 6, Matty Pearson 7, Sonny Bradley 7, Kal Naismith 6; Ryan Tunnicliffe 6 (Kazenga Lualua 76), Glen Rea 6; Dan Potts 5 (Harry Cornick H-T, 6), Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall 7, James Collins 5 (Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu 63, 6); Elijah Adebayo 7. Subs not used: James Shea, Martin Cranie, James Moncur, Sam Nombe, Joe Morrell, Dion Pereira.
Referee: David Webb (Lancashire): 7
“There was plenty of endeavour, loads of honesty and trying to make the breakthrough but we just lacked a bit of quality on the night.
“We’ve hit the bar, hit the post and had some really good counter-attacks when they’ve been open and we haven’t quite showed enough quality.
“I’m so proud of the team because they showed real honesty. We played properly, we’ve kept the integrity of the league and our club and we’re a credit to this league.”
— Hatters boss Nathan Jones
Possession: Luton 56 per cent, Millers 44 pc
Goal attempts: Luton 13, Millers 9
On target: Luton 3, Millers 2
Corners: Luton 6, Millers 7
Fouls: Luton 11, Millers 8
Chances there but not taken. It’s why Rotherham are where they are in the table.