Interpreters, effort, hope and how 100 per cent Millers gave the leaders a real scare ... the story of Rotherham United 1 Leeds United 2
Will Vaulks set the tone for Rotherham United on an afternoon at AESSEAL New York Stadium that brought hope and dismay in equal measure.
The way Marco Bielsa's table-toppers celebrated deliriously at the end told the story of how hard Paul Warne's injury-hit team had pushed them. This was Rotherham as we have come to appreciate them in the second tier: 100 per cent, 100 miles an hour, no respecter of reputations.
"I am proud of the lads' efforts," said manager Warne. "Player for player, Leeds are better than us. They have players who are quicker than ours with tighter control.
"They are well organised and well coached, but for the majority of the game my lads did everything we asked them to do
Sean Raggett in action
"Their attitude and the way they stuck to the game-plan could have been enough to earn us a positive result."
Warne's turn in front of the press came after Bielsa. The Millers manager entered the media suite putting a brave face on defeat, joking about needing an interpreter like his Argentine counterpart.
The frustration of so near, so far was evident. Yet the shimmer of rain still on his black coat was matched by his sheen of satisfaction that Rotherham had left nothing out there.
"I am not sitting here angry or anything," he said. "But I am disappointed and exhausted."
He knew that, in any language, his men had had a right go.
Spygate Bielsa could have despatched a dozen secret watchers to the Millers' training ground in the build-up to the Yorkshire derby and wouldn't have been prepared for two of the game's big moments.
Semi Ajayi smashed in a goal-of-a-career rocket from more than 25 yards to give the home side a first-half lead and Clark Robertson, so assured since forcing his way into the starting 11 three months ago, uncharacteristically dithered in defence to give Leeds a way back into the game soon after the break.
Rotherham had been set up in a 4-2-3-1 formation and their snap and relentless closing down were too much for the visitors in the first half.
Rotherham take the lead
The Millers deserved their 28th-minute moment when a flowing move went Michael Smith, to Ajayi, to Joe Mattock, to Anthony Forde, back to Mattock, to Richie Towell, back to Ajayi to New York eruption as an unstoppable shot screamed past Leeds' debutant goalkeeper from Real Madrid, Kiko Casilla.
They began the second period on the front foot but, five minutes in, Robertson and keeper Marek Rodak fatally waited for each other to clear a ball and Mateusz Klich didn't need an invitation to gatecrash their hesitance.
From the moment the equaliser went in, relieved Leeds, having been pressed, pestered and plagued to distraction, started Marching on Together.
Ezgjan Alioski's bending cross forced a good diving save from Rodak, Kemar Roofe headed wide after the home defence had been sprung and Alioski shot wide when he had more time than he thought.
“I thought the substitution at half-time changed it," Warne said. He (Tyler Roberts) caused us no end of problems. My centre-halves were caught between a rock and a hard place about whether to close him down or keep their shape."
Rotherham came again and all-action Vaulks' fierce long-ranger had the flying Casilla spectacularly underlining his Madrid credentials.
A deserved draw was in sight until substitute Jerry Yates gave the ball away on the Millers' left flank with four minutes to go and Klich picked his way across the penalty area looking for a chance to shoot.
New York held its breath, Klich held his nerve, Yates held his head in his hands, Warne couldn't hold it in.
"When their second goal went in, that was probably the most I've ever reacted to conceding a goal as a manager," he said. "It did feel like a right sucker-punch.
"You don't ever give away possession needlessly. It's about the pressure Leeds put you under. You're more fatigued and it's harder to make the right decision at times.
"It is always difficult to concede that late on because it doesn't allow you to throw the kitchen sink at them. If they score after 70 minutes rather than 85, you have more time to make positive changes.
"The goals we conceded were disappointing but I'm not attaching blame to anyone. The first goal was particularly disappointing. We had chance to clear the ball.
"I'm disappointed for all the fans. A point at home to Leeds would have been a good point."
Injuries are hitting a small squad hard. Ben Wiles was the latest absentee, sidelined by a heel issue, and how Rotherham could have done around the hour mark with the game-changing potential off the bench of Ryan Williams or Joe Newell, nursing hamstring and groin problems respectively.
In some ways, the men who weren't in the matchday 18 mattered almost as much as the ones who were.
"I'm not making excuses but I am making excuses," said Warne whose team remain in 21st place but would be overtaken by Reading if the Royals win at Bolton Wanderers on Tuesday night.
"Today it would have been ideal to to put a Willo or a Newelly on as the game went on. We miss them as part of the squad at the moment.
"We limited an excellent team to very few chances."
The boss shook hands with all his players at the end. He waited by the tunnel for Vaulks and commiserated with the skipper who had given everything in a losing cause.
Leeds, in the end, just had enough. But this was the Millers back at their vibrant best, the team of triers who offer hope of second-tier survival.
Rotherham United (4-2-3-1): Marek Rodak; Billy Jones, Sean Raggett, Clark Robertson, Joe Mattock; Semi Ajayi, Will Vaulks; Anthony Forde, Richie Towell, Jon Taylor; Michael Smith. Unused: Lewis Price, Zak Vyner, Richard Wood, Matt Palmer.
Subs: Jerry Yates (for Taylor, 75 minutes), Kyle Vassell (for Smith, 82), Matt Crooks (for Towell, 85).
Leeds (4-1-4-1): Kiko Casilla; Luke Ayling, Liam Cooper, Kalvin Phillips, Ezgjan Alioski; Adam Forshaw; Jack Clarke, Pablo Hernandez, Mateusz Klich, Jack Harrison; Kemar Roofe. Unused: Bailey Peacock-Farrell, Tom Pearce, Jordan Stevens, Aapo Halme.
Subs: Tyler Roberts (for Clarke, H-T), Jamie Shackleton (for Harrison, 87), Leif Davis (for Hernandez, 90+5).
Goals: Ajayi, 28 (Rotherham). Klich 50, 86 (Leeds).
Referee: Tim Robinson (West Sussex).
Attendance: 11,259 (2,317).