Is the time right for another Rotherham United hero at Hillsborough?

Paul WarnePaul Warne
Paul Warne
ONE fleeting moment at the far post, forever a Rotherham United legend.

Matt Derbyshire wheeled away, arms raised in tattooed triumph, heading for his joyous teammates, heading for Millers immortality.

That's what scoring a winner against Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough does for you.

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Derbyshire lurked, yellow-shirted, at the back post in the 21st minute on March 5 2016 to prod home Lee Frecklington's cross from the right: 1-0 to Neil Warnock's Rotherham and a Championship survival miracle starting to take shape.

In 2002, it had been the turn of Richie Barker and Darren Garner, last-minute heroes in the same calender year but in different Division One seasons as the Owls were shot down during the reign of Ronnie Moore.

The memories endure. As Garner says: “It's amazing to think that all these years later people still talk about that goal.”

Twenty years before that, Joe McBride tapped into an empty net for a 1-0 win and the song commemorating that event is still well known among older fans.

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Manager Paul Warne invoked the 'l' world in Rotherham's most recent derby, against the other half of Sheffield at AESSEAL New York Stadium last month, inspiring a fightback that led to a 2-2 draw against Chris Wilder's United.

“You'll blink and your careers will soon be over and these are the games that people will remember. These are the games that make you a Millers player or a Millers legend.”

When the Rotherham team run out at Hillsborough this Saturday they will know full well what victory would mean.

This is a good time for the Millers, seeking a first away win of the season, to be heading to Hillsborough and a bad time for  the Owls to be contemplating visitors brimming with commitment, running power and derby desire.

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Wednesday have lost six of their last eight Championship matches, slipping from sixth to 16th in the table, and the calls from disaffected fans for boss Jos Luhukay to be axed grow ever more vociferous.

One thing the Dutchman doesn't need is to run into opposition with the resolve, courage and appetite for battle he hasn't managed to instill on a regular basis in his own side.

Whatever the outcome this weekend, Wednesday don't have the togetherness of Rotherham.

Derbyshire, switched from his usual strike role to a position on the left flank, was the last player to emerge a Millers hero in hostile S6 territory.

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A gaggle of home supporters had turned the air Wednesday blue when Derbyshire's boss, with his past Blades connections, disembarked from the team bus outside Hillsborough before kick-off.

“The city is ours,” was the most acceptable of their chants. Magic Matt made sure the city was Warnock's later that day.

Only Richard Wood of the Rotherham starters that day remains with the Millers.

Three seasons on, comes a game the importance of which extends beyond South Yorkshire bragging rights.

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Warne's 20th-placed men need points to keep themselves away from relegation worries, Luhukay knows he will pay with his job sooner rather than later if the chasm between club and followers widens further.

I have covered both teams this season and a combined Millers-Owls side, based on long-term fitness, present form and not reputation, would, in my judgement, contain maybe seven Millers players.

Marek Rodak keeps goal, Semi Ajayi and Clark Robertson are paired in central defence,  Richie Towell or Will Vaulks start in central midfield, Ryan Williams is on the right wing and the lone-striker role goes to Michael Smith.

In a 4-4-1-1 formation, Wednesday's Barry Bannan pulls the strings in midfield, Adam Reach offers Premier League class on the left flank and Fernando Forestieri walks in as a 'No 10'.

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At right-back, I genuinely can't decide between Rotherham's Zak Vyner and the Owls' Liam Palmer. Wednesday youngster Matt Penney would have played left-back earlier in the campaign but mid-season Miller Joe Mattock gets the vote right now.

The most recent Hillsborough showdown, in December 2016, brought no glory only gut-wrenching Owls retribution.

Nine months after the Warnock show, Wood featured again, receiving a red card for conceding a late, contested penalty and watching in anger from the touchline as Steven Fletcher sealed a 1-0 home victory from the spot in the dying seconds.

Back in February 2002, Barker, now part of the management team at AESSEAL New York Stadium, headed in a last-gasp Chris Daws' free-kick for a 2-1 Rotherham win.

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And Garner fired home a 90th-minute, 30-yard screamer the following August, losing his head to such an extent that to this day he can't fully recall his celebration as the Millers, with a certain Warne in their side, prevailed 2-1 once more.

Now comes the chance in 2018 for someone else to be McBride, or Barker, or Garner, or Derbyshire.

As Warne has already done once this season, he will fire up his team with a simple, compelling derby-day truth ...

“These are the games that make you a Millers player or a Millers legend.”