The chants, the fish and chips, the drought that nearly ended ... the story of Middlesbrough 1 Rotherham United 1

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IT was so good while it lasted.

Rotherham United, without a victory on their travels in the previous 14 months, were leading on opposition soil.

Cafu struck just before the hour mark and for 23 glorious minutes there was the prospect of the Championship's bottom-placed club toppling a play-off-chasing side that had beaten Premier League Chelsea in their previous home outing.

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“Up the Football League we go,” chorused the away-day faithful.

Rotherham United's Seb Revan up against Middlesbrough new boy Luke Ayling. Picture: Jim BrailsfordRotherham United's Seb Revan up against Middlesbrough new boy Luke Ayling. Picture: Jim Brailsford
Rotherham United's Seb Revan up against Middlesbrough new boy Luke Ayling. Picture: Jim Brailsford

Well, maybe not just yet in these still-early stages of boss Leam Richardson's reign where wins are needed and draws aren't enough. But you felt and admired their optimism.

The Riverside Stadium was expecting a Saturday-afternoon three-point haul for a Michael Carrick outfit on the fringes of the top-six reckoning and in the last four of the League Cup.

Rotherham knew what they had to do and they did it: nick something and keep it tight. Boro's 82nd-minute equaliser spoiled a fairytale but didn't kill the story.

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“We've come away to a team who have bought players for millions of pounds and have just brought in Luke Ayling in from Leeds United,” said Richardson.

Peter Kioso makes his first Rotherham United outing, at Middlesbrough, in nearly nine months. Picture: Jim BrailsfordPeter Kioso makes his first Rotherham United outing, at Middlesbrough, in nearly nine months. Picture: Jim Brailsford
Peter Kioso makes his first Rotherham United outing, at Middlesbrough, in nearly nine months. Picture: Jim Brailsford

“They're in the semi-finals and we've competed with them. It's all positive.”

THE MATCH

The first attempt on target for three matches was worth waiting for.

Jordan Hugill challenged for a ball played out from the back, took possession after a ricochet off an opponent and played a perfectly-weighted pass behind Boro's rearguard.

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Full-back Luke was left Ayling as he gave chase in vain while Cafu timed his run, weighed up his angles and calmly stroked the ball beyond keeper Tom Glover into an unguarded sliver of the net.

“I thought the goal was fantastic,” Richardson said. “The transition is something we've spoken about and had worked tirelessly on for the last few days. I thought we executed it extremely well.”

Rotherham supporters had already been warmed against the cold whipping off the Tees estuary by their team's willingness to compete, stay defensively resolute and look for a cheeky attack on the break.

The strike made a good day out even better. Here was a performance, hope, something to get behind.

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Beforehand, there had been fish and chips in nearby Redcar for some of them. Then came a bit of salt from Middlesbrough boss Carrick after his side had been shaken by Millers vinegar.

Hugill shouldn't have escaped punishment for an early push on Isaiah Jones that had ended the Boro man's involvement, he said. Boro should have been awarded a penalty when Peter Kioso pulled down Sam Greenwood before the break, he maintained.

Hugill was offside during the goal assist, he reckoned. A stoppage-time finish from Josh Coburn that would have settled the contest in Boro's favour shouldn't have been ruled out because Matt Crooks was onside actually, he insisted.

To be fair, he might have had something of a case on all four counts.

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Hugill was close to giving the Millers a seventh-minute lead as he whipped a shot just off target. Before the interval, Viktor Johansson saved well from Greenwood, very well from Marcus Forss and was relieved to see Matt Clarke's header at a corner drift wide.

“In the first half Middlesbrough set a press on us,” Richardson said. “There are different ways round it, through it or over it.

“We were better in the second half. Viktor made good decisions along with the back lads and we played through the lines well at times.

“Middlesbrough have a lot of the ball against most teams at the Riverside, but we were a threat on the counter, very diligent and very thoughtful within our shape.

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“The game probably panned out the way we thought it would. I thought we met Middlesbrough in certain ‘lanes’ and didn't allow them to play through us.

“We're disappointed with the goal we conceded. I thought we could have been better with the ball but the players get the credit for a good result.”

Rotherham are a tougher nut to crack these days and it's testimony to the organisation their new leader is instilling that Forss's fiercely-struck leveller, set up by Morgan Rogers' exquisite touch, and the last-gasp Coburn drama were the only times they looked unsettled in Boro's late surge.

THE COMEBACK

The number 40 shirt popped up on the touchline in the 36th minute ready to enter the fray.

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Kioso was wearing Millers colours for the first time since last May and was being called into action because of an injury to Cohen Bramall.

He'd come back from his loan spell at Peterborough United, fetching with him some baggage from the Posh end about him being happier in Cambridgeshire than South Yorkshire.

A week earlier, rumours had been rife that he hadn't wanted to play when he missed the Stoke City clash.

Well, for someone who had allegedly downed tools he didn't half run around a lot and try hard.

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Illness had been the real reason for his absence and now, recovered, he made a healthy impact on his return.

Meanwhile, Richardson is a man who has pragmatism rather than romance running through his veins and there was no tingle in him as his team led and the clock began to tick towards a memorable end to a 29-game drought.

“I can't affect what's gone before so it's something I don't think about," he said. “I just want to be competitive and have a level of performance every single game. The players' pressure is to perform, it's my pressure to get results.”

The fans? They dared to dream. “We're winning away,” rose from the corner of the Riverside housing around 700 of them.

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The victory didn't quite happen. But it's a sign of progress that they at least got to sing about the prospect.

Middlesbrough (4-2-3-1): Tom Glover; Luke Ayling, Dael Fry, Matt Clarke, Lukas Engel; Dan Barlaser (Lewis O'Brien 81), Hayden Hackney; Isaiah Jones (Marcus Forss 20), Finn Azaz (Matt Crooks 68), Morgan Rogers; Sam Greenwood (Josh Coburn 81). Subs not used: Jamie Jones, Rav van den Berg, Alex Gilbert, Paddy McNair, Law McCabe.

Rotherham (3-5-1-1): Viktor Johansson; Hakeem Odoffin, Sean Morrison, Seb Revan; Lee Peltier, Jamie Lindsay (Ollie Rathbone 76), Christ Tiehi, Sam Clucas, Cohen Bramall (Peter Kioso 36); Cafu (Sam Nombe 86); Jordan Hugill (Tom Eaves 76). Subs not used: Dillon Phillips, Tolaji Bola, Arvin Appiah, Georgie Kelly, Ciaran McGuckin.

Goals: Forss 82 (Middlesbrough); Cafu 59 (Rotherham).

Referee: Darren Bond (Lancashire).

Attendance: 26,140 (674 plus pay on the day).