The goal, the beer, the impact Leam Richardson is having ... the story of Rotherham United 1 Sunderland 1

LEAM Richardson and Sam Clucas go back a long way.

The Rotherham United boss is the man who spotted the midfielder's potential more than a decade ago, signed him and paved the way for the player's time in the Premier League.

So no-one was more delighted than the new Millers head coach when the 33-year-old added some top-flight class to Championship proceedings at AESSEAL New York Stadium last night with a sumptuous first goal for the club he joined in September as a free agent.

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"I've worked with Sam before," Richardson said. "We took him from Mansfield when I was at Chesterfield. I've known him for many years.

Sam Clucas celebrates after scoring his first Rotherham United goal in spectacular style. Picture: Jim BrailsfordSam Clucas celebrates after scoring his first Rotherham United goal in spectacular style. Picture: Jim Brailsford
Sam Clucas celebrates after scoring his first Rotherham United goal in spectacular style. Picture: Jim Brailsford

"I'll claim that I spotted him and got him on the way to those multi-million-pound moves, so he owes me a beer!

"It's great to work with him again. He's a fantastic person and a great professional. You can see the quality he's got. He's left-footed, upright, athletic."

Opponents Sunderland arrived in S60 in a play-off spot and were held and at times stretched by a team at the foot of the table who were taking their fourth point from their last two matches.

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Rotherham remain a long, long way from safety yet something is stirring during Richardson's first month at the helm.

His injury-ravaged squad are so lacking in numbers that three of the nine places on the bench went unfilled again but they're starting to make up for it in organisation and spirit.

Even if they might not win many games at this level, they're becoming harder to beat.

"The effort and commitment from the lads was there for all to see," the boss said. "Sunderland had to work hard for their goal.

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A deflection gave them that. We had a very offensive first half and then we had to defend at times in the second."

Sam Nombe, sprung clear by Jordan Hugill's pass, was denied a breakthrough by Anthony Patterson's save in the opening period. The striker also shot a whisker wide and the visiting goalkeeper performed heroics to palm away Hakeem Odoffin's goalbound touch for a corner.

Clucas's piece of magic came three minutes after the restart. From the moment the ball was headed away by Pierre Ekwah everything was perfect about the Millers man's body shape, anticipation and execution.

Patterson was as much a spectator as the fans leaping from their seats in the North Stand behind the bulging net.

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"It was a measured action and worthy of winning the game from that distance," Richardson said. "Sam played terrifically well with Christ (Tiehi). It would help if he can keep knocking them in from 20 yards on the volley!"

Sunderland - also under new leadership in Michael Beale following the sacking of Tony Mowbray - fought back, led by the thrust of arguably the division's best left-sided forward, Jack Clarke.

The Millers lead lasted until the 73rd minute when a vicious ricochet on an edge-of-the-aera shot from the winger left a keeper even of Viktor Johansson's capabilities helpless.

Both teams had shouts for penalties waved away as the clock ticked down, home substitute Georgie Kelly shot off target from a difficult angle, Johansson got down sharply to smother Timothee Pembele's header and, in stoppage time, another Rotherham sub, Tom Eaves, headed off target.

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Richardson had been brave enough, late on, to bring on three attacking replacements in unison, going for the win rather than settling for the draw.

"I thought we were worthy of a positive result," he said. "In the first half we were in the ascendancy.

"The only disappointing thing is that when we scored we probably conceded five yards of space rather than squeezing the game.

"Sunderland put the pressure on. They've got some fantastic individuals. Their bench adds to what they've got.

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"We're not blessed enough yet to be in a position to be able to rotate players or keep that high energy so we have to play a certain way with what we have available. The output from the players is commendable."

Clucas came off early, his aching limbs not yet ready for a full game following six weeks out with hamstring trouble.

He earned a standing ovation from New York and a gratified handshake and pat around the head from his gaffer.

"His performance deserved that goal," said Richardson. "It was a terrific strike.

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"His deliveries, his set-pieces, the defensive work he did, his 'read' on the game, they were all excellent. He and Christ were asked to do many jobs and they did them very well."

Rotherham are improving under Richardson and this was an encouraging way to end 2023.

Heading into the New Year, there's a glimmer of survival hope; just the merest glimmer, but hope nonetheless.

For that, we all owe him a beer.

Rotherham (3-5-2): Viktor Johansson; Hakeem Odoffin, Sean Morrison, Seb Revan; Dexter Lembikisa (Arvin Appiah 77), Jamie Lindsay, Christ Tiehi, Sam Clucas (Cafu 68), Cohen Bramall; Sam Nombe (Georgie Kelly 77), Jordan Hugill (Tom Eaves 77). Subs not used: Dillon Phillips, Ciaran McGuckin.

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Sunderland (4-2-3-1): Anthony Patterson; Jenson Seelt (Timothee Pembele 63), Luke O'Nien, Dan Ballard, Trai Hume; Pierre Ekwa (Alex Pritchard 63), Dan Neil; Patrick Roberts (Abdoullah Ba 15), Jobe Bellingham, Jack Clarke; Adil Aouchiche (Mason Burstow H-T). Subs not used: Nathan Bishop, Nazariy Rusyn, Jewison Bennette, Nectarios Triantis, Aji Alese.

Goals: Clucas 48 (Rotherham); Clarke 73 (Sunderland).

Referee: Tony Harrington (Hartlepool).

Attendance: 11,323 (2,420).