The fans, the 15 minutes and the greatest FA Cup comeback in the Millers' history ... the story of Solihull Moors 3 Rotherham United 4

By Paul Davis | 03/12/2019

The fans, the 15 minutes and the greatest FA Cup comeback in the Millers' history ... the story of Solihull Moors 3 Rotherham United 4
Michael Smith heads the winner. Pictures by Trevor Price

'MILLERS, Millers, Millers.'

The cry didn't merely hang in the cold FA Cup air at non-league Solihull Moors.

It pierced it, shattered it, becoming the soundtrack to something utterly unbelievable.

League One Rotherham United were dead and buried. They were 3-0 down, being outplayed by opponents two divisions below them and facing second-round humiliation in front of the BT Sport cameras.

Suddenly it was 3-1. 3-2. 3-3. Three goals in 12 late minutes. The volume in the away corner of Damson Park was rising and rising.

Then, wonderfully, gloriously, unforgettably, it was 3-4. Substitute striker Michael Smith headed in a stoppage-time winner, sliding joyfully towards the pandemonium, and, at the final whistle, there were flags, fans and that deafening, defiant chant.

A change in pitch occurs when supporters react to something remarkable, something they have never seen before. The sound is higher, more urgent and it can't be planned, can't be rehearsed. it's just raw, guttural, human emotion when the impossible unfolds before your eyes.

'Millers, Millers, Millers.'

Manager Paul Warne leapt as high as anyone as the Rotherham bench emptied at Smith's command but, later, he was too angry to feel fulfilled.

"'Relieved' is possibly the best way to put it," he said. "We knew Solihull were going to be good. We'd prepared the team as well as we always do. We'd warned our players about Solihull's threat and their physicality.

"Solihull stopped us getting the ball out wide and putting in crosses. It wasn't until we made changes that we were able to put better balls into the box and take our chances.

"For the team to come from 3-0 down to win 4-3 gives the players real pride, but I just think we needed to be better in a lot of areas tonight. We weren't at our best."

So true. Those frantic, fantastic last 15 minutes couldn't and shouldn't disguise the 75 that had gone before.

Equally, however, that sorry 75 shouldn't detract from the fantasy of the 15 that followed.

THE MATCH

"Let's go f*cking mental" chanted a section of bouncing home supporters when their team were well ahead, advice no doubt taken at half-time by a fuming Warne as he sought to rouse his troops on Monday night.

Jamey Osborne's sweet drive from the edge of the area put National League Solihull into a sixth-minute lead and Alex Gudger quickly doubled the hosts' advantage, applying a close-range finish amid away appeals for offside.

Rotherham didn't lay a glove on Moors in or out of possession and it needed two sharp Daniel Iversen saves from Paul McCallum to keep the score down before the break.

"I was always worried about conceding an early goal because that gives Solihull a right boost. Then they got two," Warne rued.

All Rotherham had to show for their first-half efforts was a tame Freddie Ladapo shot on the turn and a Clark Robertson header, from Kyle Vassell's free-kick, that went just wide.

Ladapo, with a shot that was saved and an off-target header he should have converted, served notice after the break that the Millers wouldn't surrender but James Ball's 62nd-minute tap-in after a Moors breakaway seemed to have ended the visitors' hopes.

Sub Chiedozie Ogbene thought otherwise, launching a series of lightning raids down the right flank and one quality cross after another.

Ladapo's poacher's finish - his fifth goal in three games - stirred Rotherham into life on 76 minutes and Michael Ihiekwe picked his spot with a lovely curling effort three minutes later.

"The subs changed things," Warne said. "I could have changed a lot of things, couldn't I? I joked with the players afterwards that I could have put me, Richie (assistant boss Barker and Hammy (coach Matt Hamshaw) on and we'd have been better."

Moors were spent, Rotherham were surging, their fans were singing. The comeback couldn't be on, could it?

Quietly now. Not too loud. 'Millers, Millers, Millers.'

After sub number three Matt Crooks had hit the post, two minutes of the regulation 90 remained when Ogbene found Smith's head and Smith's head found the corner of the goal at the same end as the travelling faithful.

Within three minutes the same partnership clicked in the same manner again and history was made.

Never before have the Millers fought back from 3-0 down in a single-leg cup tie to triumph 4-3.

"The players are good characters," Warne said. "We recruit really good people here. They're a bunch of winners. I said to them at half-time that they were letting themselves down a little bit. They do give everything.

"First half, we over-complicated things. We took a pass too many. We went backwards and sideways, which isn't really us. Solihull were dropping off and it changed the way we played.

"If we play with our DNA we're a really good side. The last 20 minutes was obviously more us."

One of Solihull's sponsors is a company called Abacus. They were needed to keep count as Rotherham rattled in the goals.

THAT COMEBACK

The new main stand at Damson Park is a work in progress, sleek and shiny at the front, a building site at the back. Behind it were ladders, steel, scaffolding, a white van.

A hulking, rusty skip dominated the scene, creaking and inert like first-half Rotherham.

Nearby were empty containers with flammable signs. The second-half Millers caught fire.

"I just thought if we could just get one goal then you never know," Warne said. "We had a lot more chances in the second half. You just need to take one and that might open the door.

"But that 'one' looked a bit elusive. At one stage, I thought Solihull might have got the fourth.

"I'd be lying if I said I was confident we could come back - I definitely was not - but I thought getting one goal might just rattle Solihull.

"Chieo had a massive effect down the right. His crosses were unbelievable. I expect my centre-forwards to score from them. We missed plenty of chances as well."

This wasn't the greatest ever setting or the greatest ever TV audience but, make no mistake, it was one of the great FA Cup turnarounds.

"There is some character in the side," Warne added. "I'm obviously pleased that we scored four times but we shouldn't have to score four goals to win a football match.

"I was just so disappointed with the first-half performance that it shades my enjoyment of the win."

It's the boss's job to be realistic and downbeat, the fans' job to be rabid and demented.

Loudly now. Crazy now. Let's go f*cking mental.

'Millers, Millers, Millers.'

Solihull (4-3-1-2): Ryan Boot; Lee Vaughan, Alex Gudger, Callum Howe, Jamie Reckord; Gavin Gunning, James Ball, Kyle Storer; Jamey Osborne (Danny Wright 89); Paul McCallum (Nathan Blissett 75), Jake Beesley (Sam Jones 82). Subs not used: Tyrone Williams, Terry Hawkridge, Shaun Rowley, Adi Yussuf.

Rotherham (4-4-1-1): Daniel Iversen; Matt Olosunde, Michael Ihiekwe, Adam Thompson, Clark Robertson; Carlton Morris (Chiedozie Ogbene 54), Ben Wiles, Dan Barlaser (Matt Crooks 66), Trevor Clarke (Michael Smith 26); Kyle Vassell; Freddie Ladapo. Subs not used: Lewis Price, Jake Cooper, Jamie Lindsay, Jake Hastie.

Goals: Osborne 6, Gudger 8, Ball 62 (Solihull); Ladapo 76, Ihiekwe 79, Smith 88, 90+1 (Rotherham).

Referee: Carl Boyeson (East Yorkshire).

Attendance: 2,372 (437).

 


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