And Smith must score ... the story of Preston North End 1 Rotherham United 1

The Millers in action at PrestonThe Millers in action at Preston
The Millers in action at Preston
SEVENTY-seven days after he last hit the net, the long wait was finally over.

Michael Smith buried his second-half shot at Preston North End as if he does that kind of thing every week.

He doesn't. Which is why the centre-forward's celebration at Deepdale carried that bit more venom and why teammates raced en masse to mob the Rotherham United frontman.

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'Smudge' hit the winner against Ipswich Town back on August 11 and had been goalless in his 12 games since.

That doesn't mean the big man hasn't been a major factor in the Millers staying away from the Championship relegation places. His contribution, particularly in recent games, has been on a par with his physique: towering.

He ended his drought during Preston's Remembrance Day match, North End's last home fixture before November 11. There were soldiers on the pitch before kick-off, the Last Post, a minute's silence.

Smith's aim in the 55th minute when he earned the Millers a 1-1 draw and their second away point in four days was as straight and true as the best rifleman's.

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"Smithy deserved his goal," said manager Paul Warne. "I think he's deserved one the last few weeks. His performances have been outstanding."


The matchday programme had a moving feel to it, 21 former Lilywhites players who perished in World War One remembered in a four-page spread entitled 'Gone, but not forgotten'.

Uniforms, the red-coated bugler, the 60-second tribute immaculately observed by both sets of supporters ... they all told us that football doesn't really matter.

Only, in sporting terms, it does. It matters that Rotherham are no longer losing every game on their travels, it matters that the drop zone remains below them.

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Turning some of the draws into wins wouldn't go amiss, but it matters that they're showing enough to suggest they can survive and sometimes prosper in the second tier.

The Millers were on the back foot early on, but there was Smith in the 14th minute doing what has become his trademark: going close with a stunning long-range effort. This time he swept a vicious 25-yard curling shot towards goal which crashed back off the woodwork. Not so much the Last Post as the right post.

On the balance of attacks, the home side, who went into the contest unbeaten in four outings, deserved their 40th-minute lead, given to them when Tom Barkhuizen headed in Callum Robinson's inswinging corner.

"After we had ridden their initial storm, I thought we were really in the game," manager Paul Warne said. "I was disappointed to concede the way we did.

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"Our record of not conceding from set-pieces has been pretty good this season. I was disappointed to lose the goal when we did because I thought we were in a really good spell."

There was no minute's silence at the interval as Warne and his staff demanded more from their players, changing the formation from 4-4-1-1 to 4-4-2, with Kyle Vassell switched from the left flank to join Smith up front.

"I asked the lads to really run at them," Warne revealed. "I needed a more athletic performance in the second half. The first half was okay, but okay isn't good enough. I thought our second half was a lot better.

"If nothing else, this group has unbelievable character. I don't know when the last Championship match was when we were losing and came back."

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In case you're reading, Paul, a 2-1 win on February 28 2015 at New York Stadium when Millwall followers decided to go on a wrecking spree afterwards.

The second period was only four minutes old when Vassell - whose whole demeanour suggested he was relishing being let off the leash down the middle - stung Chris Maxwell's hands with a fierce drive.

After Smith's big moment, came Marek Rodak, the goalkeeper crucially saving from Robinson in the 77th minute, the only time a defiant, organised Rotherham rearguard wobbled during a late Preston onslaught.


"A nice little finish ..." Warne was downplaying the skill of Smith, who has been Man of the Match in all of the Millers' last three games, after the 27-year-old had latched on to Ryan Williams' low cross, swivelled and smashed the ball into the roof of the net from 15 yards.

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"He has to add goals in the box to his game," the boss added. "He's a hard-working centre-forward - a bit like Revs (Alex Revell) was, to a certain extent. Sometimes he runs out wide, vacates the middle of the park and limits his chances to score. 

"We keep trying to get him to stay in the middle of the pitch to give himself more opportunities. I'm really pleased for him. He's had an amazing week."

The cheers and chants of the away contingent as the home fans traipsed silently away pointed to which side were happiest with the result.

Happier than anyone was Smudge.

We'd wondered if the goal touch was gone. But that deft turn and rapier right-footed strike showed it wasn't forgotten.

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Preston (3-3-3-1 ): Chris Maxwell; Tom Clarke, Paul Huntington, Ben Davies; Ben Pearson, Daniel Johnson (Paul Gallagher 72), Andrew Hughes; Callum Robinson, Alan Browne, Tom Barkhuizen (Louis Moult 75); Lukas Nmecha (Sean Maguire 64). Subs not used: Declan Rudd, Darnell Fisher, Josh Earl, Jordan Storey.

Rotherham (4-4-1-1): Marek Rodak; Zak Vyner, Semi Ajayi, Clark Robertson, Joe Mattock; Jon Taylor (Joe Newell 68), Will Vaulks, Richie Towell, Kyle Vassell (Jamie Proctor 76); Ryan Williams (Ryan Manning 85); Michael Smith. Subs not used: Lewis Price, Richard Wood, Matt Palmer, Ben Wiles.

Goals: Barkhuizen 40 (Preston); Smith 55 (Rotherham).

Referee: Jeremy Simpson (Lancashire).

Attendance: 11,780 (700).