The slaughter, the comeback and Matt Taylor's finest hour ... the story of Southampton 1 Rotherham United 1

“AM I allowed to swear?” Matt Taylor asked journalists on the touchline at St Mary's Stadium.
All smiles as Jordan Hugill scores a spectacular equaliser for Rotherham United. Picture: Jim BrailsfordAll smiles as Jordan Hugill scores a spectacular equaliser for Rotherham United. Picture: Jim Brailsford
All smiles as Jordan Hugill scores a spectacular equaliser for Rotherham United. Picture: Jim Brailsford

He was told that, with a radio station recording the interview, it might be prudent not to.

Just the fact that a manager as publicly reserved as the Rotherham United boss wanted to eff and blind a little told you how much the passion had been stirred on an amazing Championship afternoon at a ground that was a Premier League venue last term and may well be again next year.

The injury-ravaged Millers had drawn, they'd been staring certain defeat in the face, they could even have impossibly won in the end.

Striker Sam Nombe gets up for a header before being replaced by scorer Jordan Hugill. Picture: Jim BrailsfordStriker Sam Nombe gets up for a header before being replaced by scorer Jordan Hugill. Picture: Jim Brailsford
Striker Sam Nombe gets up for a header before being replaced by scorer Jordan Hugill. Picture: Jim Brailsford

Bloody hell. Ooops, sorry.

“I'm not an emotional guy but that certainly touches you a little bit,” said the unemotional guy. “We were so far off the game and opposition in the first half but somehow found a way to stay in the game.

"We had to tweak certain aspects as we went through it. In the second half, we were full of spirit, endeavour and a little bit of skill.”

Crestfallen opponents Southampton, who'd been looking at rout when they went ahead inside two minutes and then destroyed the visitors for the next half an hour, will testify to that.

Rotherham United man-of-the-match Viktor Johansson in Championship action at Southampton. Picture Jim BrailsfordRotherham United man-of-the-match Viktor Johansson in Championship action at Southampton. Picture Jim Brailsford
Rotherham United man-of-the-match Viktor Johansson in Championship action at Southampton. Picture Jim Brailsford

THE MATCH

Pressure can turn a man into a coward but Taylor wasn't for wobbling.

After the poor run his side had been on he knew questions were being raised in some quarters about his job yet he was still prepared to make himself unpopular.

He yanked Fred. Winger Onyedinma was off in the 30th minute to allow for a formation switch from 4-3-3 to 5-4-1.

The Millers had been slaughtered up until that point, they were never as vulnerable again after it.

“I took a bit of a risk because it's a big decision,” the boss said. “I'm sure it was one our fans didn't like. I tried to shore up the team with a different shape. It had the desired effect to a certain degree.

“The space was no longer through the middle of us, it was down the outside. We defended our box really well from that point.

“It's a big call to make but I don't listen to 'noise'. I have to do what I think is right for the team. I hope Fred will understand it.”

One-hundred-and-twelve seconds were on Saturday's clock when Stuart Armstrong was on hand to tap in from close range when Che Adams' header came back off the post.

Viktor Johansson saved superbly from Kameldeen Sulemana and sharply from Adam Armstrong who then had a back-heeled finish ruled out for offside. The match was still less than 15 minutes old.

“It was crucial to keep it at 1-0,” Taylor said. “It was a fragile group after our recent record. A second goal would have killed us. It was a difficult first half to be a part of but we stayed in the game.

"After two minutes, I'm thinking: ‘Wow!’ We were probably playing Southampton at the worst possible time in terms of their upturn in form. There was such brightness in their start and the way they moved the ball. We just couldn't get close to ball or man.”

A “medical incident” in the home crowd meant half-time stretched to 25 minutes, which afforded Rotherham breathing space and, according to Saints boss Russell Martin, led to the home side beginning the second period without enough intensity.

“I hope the person is okay,” said Taylor. “That's the most important thing. It gave us a bit of extra time to reassert the plan, the structure. My briefing to the team was: ‘You're the players on the pitch. Come on, you make it work.’”

Johansson, who had somehow kept out an Adams header before the interval, produced the save of the day on 69 minutes when Lee Peltier's deflection sent Will Smallbone's shot speeding towards goal.

The only thing flying faster than the ricochet was the Swede as he used his forehead to deflect the ball away.

The home crowd was expecting another goal at any time it duly arrived. Only, wonderfully, crazily, it went to the Millers who had just made three attacking substitutions in a bid to take something from the contest.

Jan Bednarek's header out of defence was weak and Jordan Hugill's instinctive 74th-minute volley was anything but as it flew up and over Gavin Bazunu into the net from 25 yards,

Not long afterwards, Ollie Rathbone came close to giving Rotherham an against-all-odds lead as he danced in on goal only to be denied at the near post by the Saints goalkeeper.

The away fans cheered every tackle, roared at every block. Johansson saved from Carlos Alcaraz late on, Peltier cleared off the line in stoppage time, the Millers held on.

It was a first point on the road and there will be no better one all season.

THE SIGNIFICANCE

"That's my best hour ever as a manager,” said Taylor who is in year number six as a boss.

“No matter how many games I've managed, that's my best hour in terms of saying what's needed, what are the big decisions and what will give us a chance.

“That's all I did: I tried to give the players a chance. Then they implemented it and added the skill factor.”

What is might do for belief and morale for a team in the drop zone going into the international break is incalculable.

Fans had been growing louder and louder as the second-half resurgence and resistance progressed. By the final whistle, the first-half mutterings of mutiny had given way to undiluted delight as the packed away corner acknowledged at full volume what they'd just witnessed.

Johansson conducted the celebrations with his hands rather than head.

The euphoria doesn't disguise the fact that this is going to be a long, hard campaign in which a second survival may be harder to achieve than last season's first, but this was a stop-off on that journey to be savoured, to be remembered, to be cherished.

‘Best-ever hour’. That's how incredible the comeback was.

Bloody, bloody hell.

Southampton (4-3-3): Gavin Bazunu; Kyle Walker-Peters, Taylor Harewood-Bellis, Jan Bednarek, Ryan Manning; Will Smallbone (Joe Aribo 86), Flynn Downes, Stuart Armstrong (Carlos Alcarez 63); Adam Armstrong (Ryan Fraser 63), Che Adams (Sekou Mara 86), Kameldeen Sulemana (Samuel Edozie 63). Subs not used: Alex McCarthy, Mason Holgate, James Bree, Shea Charles.

Rotherham (4-3-3): Viktor Johansson; Dexter Lembikisa, Lee Peltier, Grant Hall (Arvin Appiah 73), Cohen Bramall; Ollie Rathbone, Christ Tiehi, Cafu (Sam Clucas 73); Fred Onyedinma (Sebastian Revan 30), Andre Green (Georgie Kelly, 73), Sam Nombe (Jordan Hugill 61). Subs not used: Dillon Phillips, Tom Eaves, Ciaran McGuckin.

Goals: Stuart Armstrong 2 (Southampton); Hugill 74 (Rotherham).

Referee: John Busby (Oxfordshire).

Attendance: 28,404.