The big striker, the old defender and the influence of the new man ... the story of Blackburn Rovers 2 Rotherham United 2

IT rained, then the sun came out, it rained, then the sun came out as the weather pressed repeat all the way across the M62.

Rainbows decorated the New Year's Day sky on the route to Blackburn Rovers.

It was apt, really, now that Rotherham United are starting to show their true colours under a new boss.

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The Millers made the return journey with another point in the bag. They'd gone three games unbeaten for the first time this season, a win and two draws had made the Christmas period relatively festive.

Tom Eaves celebrates in front of the Rotherham United fans after scoring for the Millers at Blackburn Rovers. Picture: Jim BrailsfordTom Eaves celebrates in front of the Rotherham United fans after scoring for the Millers at Blackburn Rovers. Picture: Jim Brailsford
Tom Eaves celebrates in front of the Rotherham United fans after scoring for the Millers at Blackburn Rovers. Picture: Jim Brailsford

Their injury-ravaged squad is still in bottom spot in the Championship but the gap to safety has been reduced by two points from nine to seven; small measures but definite progress in the fledgling stages of head coach Leam Richardson's tenure.

Twice they fell behind early in a half, each time they fought back. By the end, they were even going for the victory. They're short on bodies but not on resilience and this result was a reward for staying in a game under pressure then seeing what might happen.

“It was a gutsy performance,” said Richardson. “Blackburn have got some good players, They're very fluent, they've been together for a while.

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“We started both halves not in the way we wanted. It took us a little bit to get to grips with our distances. I don't think there is a team in the country that has used as few players as we have.

“Fair play to the lads, they've had to go again and again over the holiday period.”

The signs of revival are the story. There's also a heartwarming sub-plot called Tom Eaves …


Only eight minutes had passed when a difficult task for Rotherham suddenly became a whole lot harder.

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Sammie Szmodics' pass found its way, via a deflection, to Arnor Sigurdsson deep inside the penalty area. Fortunately, Dexter Lembikisa was on hand to make life hard for the Blackburn man. Unfortunately, the Millers loanee did anything but and the Icelander was afforded the freedom to score from close range.

Goalkeeper Viktor Johansson kept the score down, making a flying intervention to tip Harry Pickering's 20-yarder around the woodwork and then beating away Callum Brittain's drive from an angle on the right.

“Good goalkeepers keep the ball out of the back of the net,” Richard said. “Good goalkeepers win you points. That's Viktor.”

Anything Viktor could do Sean Morrison could match and the centre-half produced a stunning double block, foiling Sigurdsson on the line and then picking himself up at a speed that belied his 32 years to throw himself in front of Semir Telalovic's goalbound follow-up.

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The captain then popped up at the other end against the run of play to rise higher than anyone and head in Sam Clucas's pinpoint 31st-minute corner.

“He's one of many you could single out,” Richardson said. “He's looked after himself terrifically well over this busy period with the age that he is. The lads at the side of him have learned a lot from that. He deserved his goal for his last few performances.”

Ollie Rathbone hit the bar with shot from distance before the break yet calamity struck only 33 seconds after said interval.

Hakeem Odoffin just failed to cut out James Hill's through-ball and the division's most prolific hitman, the one with the silent 'z' in his name, didn't need a second invitation to round Johansson and strike for the 16th time this season. Szmodics. Gzoal.

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Rovers appeared to have the match won but, bit by bit, minute by minute, Rotherham began to stifle their threat. Johansson still had to be sharp to push away another Szmodics attempt but the contest was turning.

Enter Eaves.

The striker had played well, running hard with and without the ball, winning headers and using his size and persistence to give the Blackburn backline a thorough test, although he’d missed a point-blank sitter when he skied Sam Nombe’s low cross.

Now, in the 82nd minute of his first start of the campaign, his moment came. Seb Revan's curling delivery set the stage and the frontman did wonderfully well to lower himself, fling his hulking frame in front of an opponent and restore parity with a diving header.

“He's been training terrifically well and he worked hard enough to get that goal,” Richardson said. “He was in the right place at the right time and it was a great ball by Revs. It was a great time to score, just when we were in the ascendancy.”

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Rotherham, freshened up by substitutions, were on top as the clock ticked down to the sight of the home side becoming increasingly ragged and the sound of the home fans becoming increasingly agitated.

Richardson decided against chatting at pitchside, opting instead to clamber up into the stand: a few more steps of upward trajectory in his brief Millers reign.

He's bought into Rotherham and his players have bought into him.

“I make no bones about it, I have a certain level of expectation of myself and every individual around the pitch,” he said. “They've got to carry it out. They have to turn up every day and do the right things to build the right habits, to make the right choices.

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“You will get physically and emotionally challenged at this level every five or ten minutes. If you've got bad habits you'll make bad choices. Of late, we've made more good choices than bad ones.”


The big forward is a different character these days. There's an extra spring in his step, an added thrust to his sprinting, a bit more bounce in his leap.

That goal at Plymouth Argyle last month, the one that saw him get off the mark after 18 barren months with the Millers, has changed everything.

Here, at Ewood Park, he ran to the travelling fans who showered him with their appreciation. In the past, he has been jeered, now there is a feeling of affection and respect for a good man who has come through the toughest spell of his career.

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“Tom's professionalism is top-class,” said Richardson of the player whose big, beaming smile at the final whistle was as bright as those earlier rainbows had been.

Finally, some sunshine after his rain.

Blackburn (4-4-2): Leo Wahlstedt; Callum Brittain, James Hill, Hayden Carter, Harry Pickering; Andrew Moran (Dilan Markanday 64), Adam Wharton, Sondre Tronstad, Arnor Sigurdsson; Sammie Szmodics, Semir Telalovic (Niall Ennis 64). Subs not used: Joe Hilton, Patrick Gamble, Harry Leonard, Zak Gilsenan, Lewis Travis, Charlie Weston, Jake Garrett.

Rotherham (3-5-2): Viktor Johansson; Hakeem Odoffin, Sean Morrison, Seb Revan; Dexter Lembikisa (Arvin Appiah 78), Ollie Rathbone (Cafu 78), Christ Tiehi, Sam Clucas (Jamie Lindsay 67), Cohen Bramall; Sam Nombe (Jordan Hugill 67), Tom Eaves (Georgie Kelly 90). Subs not used: Dillon Phillips, Ciaran McGuckin.

Goals: Sigurdsson 8, Szmodics 46 (Blackburn); Morrison 31, Eaves 82 (Rotherham).

Referee: Jarred Gillett (Merseyside).

Attendance: 13,054 (550).