So close to promotion ... on-the-whistle report: Sunderland 1 Rotherham United 1

Rotherham take the lead through Michael Ihiekwe. Picture by Jim BrailsfordRotherham take the lead through Michael Ihiekwe. Picture by Jim Brailsford
Rotherham take the lead through Michael Ihiekwe. Picture by Jim Brailsford
ROTHERHAM United were only minutes away from almost-certain League One promotion on a night of gut-wrenching tension at Sunderland.

The second-placed Millers were leading late on at the home of a side who began the clash with hopes of gatecrashing the top two thanks to Michael Ihiekwe's first-half goal.

But Ihiekwe agonisingly put the ball into his own net in the 87th minute to keep the race for an automatic rise to the Championship alive until Saturday's final day.

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Rotherham gave everything and can guarantee a berth in the second tier with victory at Gillingham this weekend.

To a man, the Millers players were heroes at the Stadium of Light and they could even go on to take the title following leaders Wigan Athletic's draw at Portsmouth.

It was a quiet start on the pitch but certainly not in the stands as Rotherham played in front of their biggest league audience of the season.

Close to 1,500 Millers fans had made the journey up the A1 and were making themselves heard high up in the gods amid the din of the home masses.

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The noise level of the Rotherham faithful went through the roof on 17 minutes when Dan Barlaser delivered a perfect corner in front of the away end and Michael Ihiekwe's head did the rest.

It was a great moment for the centre-half and also for his Geordie provider who is a big fan of Sunderland's derby rivals, Newcastle United.

Five minutes later, the net opened up for Ben Wiles following Chiedozie Ogbene's supply but the ten-goal midfieder could only scuff a week effort wide.

The visitors were on top and Jordi Osei-Tutu skipped in from the left and to send in a low effort that wasn't far away.

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The Millers had control of midfield and were a threat down both flanks where the pace and trickery of Ogbene and Osei-Tutu was being used to good effect.

Ross Stewart sent a shot from a tight angle straight at Viktor Johansson but it was a rare instance of first-half danger from the Black Cats.

The half ended as much of it had been spent: with Rotherham, who could have been further ahead, on the attack.

Their main concern was that Sunderland couldn't possibly play as poorly in the second half and that the Wearsiders had real potency they could introduce from the bench.

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Unsurprisingly, the Millers had kept faith with the side that had ended Oxford United's play-off challenge with a 2- 1 victory at the weekend.

Ogbene was paired up front again with Michael Smith - another Newcastle follower, with a Sunderland-supporting partner -  as Freddie Ladapo was omitted from the squad for the second match in succession.

Rotherham, showing huge energy and commitment, remained the better side after the break and Richard Wood sent a header into the arms of Anthony Patterson from one of many Barlaser corners.

Stewart just failed to connect with Luke O'Nien's skidding cross in front of goal for the Black Cats as the hour mark came and went and the home team threw on all their substitutes in a desperate bid to get back into the contest.

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Sunderland were now much livelier and one of those subs, Alex Pritchard, was only a whisker away from an equaliser before Smith wasted a big opportunity to make it 2-0.

Rotherham looked like they were going to see out the game until Ihiekwe sent a spectacular header flashing past his own keeper as he tried to defend the cross of another sub, Jack Clarke.

Sunderland went for the winner, the Millers held firm. On to Saturday.

Sunderland (3-5-2): Anthony Patterson; Bailey Wright, Danny Batth, Callum Doyle; Trai Hume (Jack Clarke 60), Corry Evans, Jay Matete (Elliot Embleton 70), Luke O'Nien, Lynden Gooch; Nathan Broadhead (Alex Pritchard 54), Ross Stewart. Subs not used: Thorben Hoffman, Arbenit Xhemalji, Dan Neil, Patrick Roberts.

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Rotherham (3-5-2): Viktor Johansson; Rarmani Edmonds-Green, Richard Wood, Michael Ihiekwe; Wes Harding, Ben Wiles, Dan Barlaser, Ollie Rathbone (Jamie Lindsay 80), Jordi Osei-Tutu (Joe Mattock 76); Chiedozie Ogbene, Michael Smith. Subs not used: Josh Chapman, Hakeem Odoffin, Tolaji Bola, Josh Kayode, Georgie Kelly.

Goals: Ihiekwe 17 (Rotherham); Ihiekwe og 87 (Sunderland).

Referee: Robert Madley (West Yorkshire).

Attendance: 33,119.