The lone voice, the late goal, the survival hope and Jamal Blackman steps up ... the story of Rotherham United 1 Blackburn Rovers 1

The lone voice, the late goal, the survival hope and Jamal Blackman steps up ... the story of Rotherham United 1 Blackburn Rovers 1

By Paul Davis | 02/05/2021

The lone voice,  the late goal, the survival hope and Jamal Blackman steps up ... the story of Rotherham United 1 Blackburn Rovers 1
Lewis Wing scores in the 86th minute. Pictures by Dave Poucher

 

"C'MON, Rotherham."

It's been the soundtrack to a season of empty grounds.

A lone voice has urged on the Millers at AESSEAL New York Stadium and arenas up and down the country as they have fought to stay in the Championship.

Many people believe Tony Stewart is the man offering up encouragement but it's the chairman's brother, Terry, behind the persistent imploring.

The words took on new urgency at the weekend as third-bottom Rotherham were staring relegation in the face in New York's final match of the campaign.

At one stage, as they trailed Blackburn Rovers while Derby County led at Swansea City, they were down. But Derby lost and sheer bloody-mindedness saw the Millers refuse to be beaten.

By the end of their tenth match in 30 days, a sixth successive defeat had been avoided and their survival fate was back in their own hands.

"C'mon, Rotherham," shouted Terry.

The home side had gifted Rovers a first-half advantage and only four minutes remained when Lewis Wing stood over a free-kick just outside the penalty area.

What a time for the Middlesbrough loanee to score his first goal for the club.

"I think the lads were hit by the blow of how they went behind," manager Paul Warne said. "At half-time it felt like they lacked a little bit of belief that they were going to get back into it.

Late relief for the Millers

"They have licked their wounds so many times this season that psychologically they have been a bit damaged, so for them to come back and Wingy to get his goal his performances have merited is credit to them."

The intensity with which Rotherham's bench celebrated the equaliser told of the importance of the strike.

Soon, one way or the other, it will all be over. Right now, with a midweek trip to Luton Town and Saturday's last-day showdown at Cardiff City to come, the stakes have never been higher.

While the Millers are in action in South Wales, Derby face another relegation candidate, Sheffield Wednesday. Two of those three clubs will drop into League One.

Warne was as approachable as ever in his after-match press conference but his usual joviality had temporarily left him. As soon as the questions were over he was up and gone, needing to rewind, reset, regather.

"About 25 minutes from the end I found out Derby were losing but I didn’t know they had been winning," he said. "If I did, there would have been even more demons in my head.

"The lads kept going. They are determined to keep their Championship status and fair play to them. On another day we could have won and we could have lost. That's how most of the games in this division are. We live to fight another day."

THE GAME

Seventeen minutes, disaster.

Rotherham had started well with shots from Jamie Lindsay and Freddie Ladapo but Angus MacDonald took a heavy touch and tried to make a pass that was read by Adam Armstrong who ran on to slip the ball beyond Jamal Blackman for his 25th league goal of the season.

MacDonald departed injured soon afterwards with his pride as wounded as his damaged calf.

"Angus has been great for us, he is disappointed," Warne said. "This is not League One or League Two. Championship players don't miss those chances very often."

Before the break, Armstrong worked himself clear again but this time Blackman was equal to the test while, at the other end, Chiedozie Ogbene, afforded time and space by the pinpoint accuracy of Ryan Giles' cross, should have done better than direct his header off target.

After the restart, Michael Smith broke down the right to shoot low across goal and Ladapo was unable to turn in the ball at the far post when keeper Thomas Kaminski failed to hold on.

Blackman defied gravity to hang in the air to claw away Bradley Johnson's header, Ben Brereton missed the target with only the keeper in front of him and Joe Rothwell danced through and wasn't far away.

Rotherham bowed but, crucially, didn't break. Ogbene flashed a shot across goal before, as time was  running out, Wing answered their prayer, spiralling a low shot into the bottom corner with such precision that Kaminski never moved. 1-1.

"Then you have the impossible decision of knowing whether to go for the win or shut up shop and be happy with the point," Warne said.

"To be honest, after 90 minutes I was happy with the point because if we had lost this game I don’t think we could have picked the lads up because it would have been a hammer-blow."

The boss might have been content to draw but his side, fatigue sapping their muscles but not their will, thought differently and went for victory.

C'mon, Rotherham.

The Millers had been pepped up by their substitutions and George Hirst, putting in his best performance as he sought to break his Rotherham duck in his 32nd appearance, twice went close.

Kaminski kept out the loan striker's header in the 87th minute and then parried a well-struck effort from the ensuing corner.

Ninety minutes, disaster averted.

Armstrong found himself one on one for a third time and Blackman came to the rescue again, spreading his six-foot-seven-inch frame to block the goalbound shot.

Angus MacDonald limps off

"Jamal pulled off a couple of great saves that kept us in it," Warne said. "Hirsty, I thought it might have been the headlines for him today but it just wasn't to be. It was a good game for the neutral, a hearts-in-mouths one for Rotherham fans."

Blackburn boss Tony Mowbray was as sour as ever afterwards, describing as "soft" the award of the critical 86th-minute free-kick when Darragh Lenihan manhandled Richard Wood.

"A soft one on Woody?" questioned Warne incredulously. "If it is a soft one then great because we have not had many soft ones this season. I don’t think we got a soft one today.

"I saw Wilesy get done twice with no booking and we got players booked for less. People are emotional after games. I will take another soft one on Tuesday and Saturday if it keeps us up."

THE KEEPER

It was as good as a goal, potentially the biggest moment of Rotherham's frenetic run-in.

Warne's men would have slid to the bottom of the table had Blackman not made that late stop.

The loan keeper came in for criticism earlier in the campaign for some of his displays but this was quality worthy of his Chelsea pedigree

"When you say he took stick, he never took stick off us," the manager said. "We were always supportive and helped him. If he took stick on Twitter off fans then that doesn't surprise me. I think Jam's save could be a turning point."

On to Tuesday, the final match in hand, the chance to claw back the three-point gap to Derby. A triumph at Kenilworth Road would see the Millers, with their superior goal difference, head for the last-day shoot-out out of the bottom three.

"Today has just kept the season alive," Warne said. "It allows us to go into the last two games with a bit of hope and while you have hope you have got life."

Aching bodies, the finishing line in sight, all to play for.

C'mon, Rotherham.

Goals: Armstrong 17 (Blackburn), Wing 86 (Rotherham).

Rotherham (3-5-2): Jamal Blackman; Michael Ihiekwe, Richard Wood, Angus MacDonald (Wes Harding 37); Chiedozie Ogbene (Florian Jozefzoon 69), Jamie Lindsay (Dan Barlaser 69), Shaun MacDonald (Ben Wiles H-T), Lewis Wing, Ryan Giles; Michael Smith (George Hirst 69), Freddie Ladapo. Subs not used: Josh Vickers, Matt Olosunde, Joe Mattock, Kieran Sadlier.

Blackburn (4-2-3-1): Thomas Kaminski; Ryan Nyambe, Darragh Lenihan, Taylor Harwood-Bellis, Amari'i Bell; Bradley Johnson, Lewis Travis; Sam Gallagher (Tyrhys Doland 73), Joe Rothwell (Harvey Elliott 83), Ben Brereton; Adam Armstrong. Subs not used: Aynsley Pears, Barry Douglas, Jacob Davenport, John Buckley, Corry Evans, Elliott Bennett.

Referee: Tony Harrington (Cleveland).


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