When thousands of people give you a standing ovation and the man who pays your wages is one of them, you know everything is finally good in your world.
Rotherham United striker Matt Deryshire left the field to tumultuous applause five minutes from the end of normal time, with chairman Tony Stewart rising from his seat in the West Stand to add his sharp-dressed, bespectacled acclaim.
The 28-year-old striker was a major reason why the Millers were leading 2-0 against a team who arrived at AESSEAL New York Stadium in fourth place in the Championship, scoring his second goal in as many home games to keep Steve Evans’ men heading happily up the table.
This is the Matt Derbyshire who couldn’t buy a goal a goal for 16 Championship matches after his summer arrival. “Miss, miss, miss,” was his own frank description of his time from August to late January in a Rotherham shirt.
Now fans round three sides of the ground chant his name, he’s a big hit, hit, hit with the noisy North Stand and the calls for Evans to bring in a new striker are nowhere near as intense as they were a couple of weeks ago.
That’s what goals do for you.
Derbyshire, full of running and clever movement, has found his best form and the Millers have won two and drawn one of their last three matches - and it could have been three out of three if his effort at Charlton last week hadn’t been wrongly ruled out for offside. Mere coincidence? I don’t think so.
“I’ve got into some good positions and been unfortunate not to score. But sometimes the luck turns your way,” said the hero of the hour.
“Today it went in for me, and on another day it might not go in for me, but hopefully I can keep my run going and the team can keep their run going as well and keep getting those three points.”
Evans was brave enough to promise him a run in the team when some were calling for the forward to leave, and now Rotherham have climbed to 18th in the table and have built up real momentum at the start of a tough month of matches. More of the stats later, but their bid to ensure second-tier football again for next season is looking almost as good as Derbyshire did against Mick McCarthy’s men.
The forward appreciates his manager’s backing. “When you start a game you get into a game a lot more and obviously for the last three games I’ve been starting,” he said.
“That’s very important for a forward and for any player really. That helps a lot. I’m very happy for the team. It’s not about me. It’s about the team and getting three points.”
And make no mistake, these were a massive three points for the Millers against a side who had scored more away goals than any Championship side other than leaders Bournemouth.
Ipswich are a strong, dangerous, hard-working team, with arguably the best strike combination in the division in 18-goal Daryl Murphy and seven-goal string-puller David McGoldrick, and posed many questions for the home side.
They were answered emphatically by Rotherham who matched and then beat Town for endeavour, increasingly imposed themselves on the match with a mix of skill and will, dug in heroically through a torrid spell of Ipswich pressure after half-time and then came again to add to Derbyshire’s 38th-minute diving header with a crisp 64th-minute low strike from Conor Sammon.
Earlier in the season Sammon scored once in 19 matches in a loan spell at Ipswich where he was used nearly always as a sub. Now the rangy, mobile frontman has two in four for his new club and seems to have found the perfect partner in “Sup-er, Super Matt”.
“I like playing with Conor. He works his socks off. We both try to do that for the team,” Derbyshire said.
“It’s working well. He’s scored two, I’ve scored two, playing together in the last three games. I just think we know our roles in the the team and it works well for us.”
The Tractor Boys had been two up in six minutes when the Millers travelled Portman Road and should have been ahead after just 15 seconds at New York, Murphy, back after a calf strain, shooting tamely at Adam Collin when he found himself clean through.
The same player somehow put a ninth-minute close-range effort over the bar from Jay Tabb’s corner, and from there the Millers gradually grew into the game, finally ending up the dominant side.
“I think if you take it over the 95 minutes or so it’s a wonderful performance, full of all the things that we’re good at - good on the ball, good in possession, fantastic industry all over the pitch,” said Evans.
“We took 10/15 minutes to settle ourselves down. I think we stood off them a little bit in that spell. Maybe we gave them too much respect, but it’s a side Mick McCarthy’s put together that is full of real quality so you can’t over-respect them. They’ve got some absolutely outstanding players.”
Derbyshire’s header, coming after a Ben Pringle free-kick had found its way to Craig Morgan who headed back across goal, gave Rotherham something to fight for, and fight they did as they won at home on a Saturday for the first time since the opening New York game of the season against Wolves.
McCarthy’s half-time call to arms could be heard in the adjoining press room, and in the 55th minute Luke Chambers looked to have levelled proceedings with a header only for Collin to wonderfully tip it over the bar.
Chambers headed over again from the resultant corner and when Zeki Fryers - enjoying by far his most effective game of his Millers loan spell so far - headed Murphy’s header off the line four minutes later you sensed this might be Rotherham’s day.
Within five minutes you almost knew it was when, after Town substitute Freddie Sears had drawn another cracking stop from Collin, Ben Pringle’s corner fell to Conor Newton who set up Sammon to bury his chance.
There was a clear penalty not given in the build-up as Christophe Berra bowled over Derbyshire while Pringle’s delivery hung in the air, setting up a scenario previously unheard of in modern-day football - a definite spot-kick going unawarded yet never mentioned in the after-match press conference by Evans!
When the otherwise impressive Kari Arnason let a low cross squirt through him and Murphy completely fluffed his 69th-minute opportunity in front of a gaping goal even Ipswich accepted their fate.
A searing volley from the outstanding Paul Green - does any Championship player cover more ground than the Millers’ mileage man? - from a great Pringle cross was blocked, and sub Jordan Bowery missed his chance to add extra gloss to proceedings late on when he shot too close to Bartosz Bialkowski after Richie Smallwood had put him through one on one with the Ipswich goalkeeper.
On a freakishly good afternoon for the Millers, they were the only team in the bottom eight to win. The other seven lost.
Evans always looks up rather than down, so he will have noticed Bolton Wanderers - who were talking about a play-off push before being thumped at New York Stadium 13 days ago - are now only a point in front, while Cardiff City and Fulham, both Premier League sides last season - are only two ahead.
If he does glance in the other direction, he will see his side are six points clear of third-from-bottom Millwall and with a goal difference so superior it’s worth another point. They’re 11 points better off than the club after that, Wigan Athletic, and have now lost only twice in their last 11 league matches.
Heady stuff. And it’s not just down to the Derbyshire/Sammon axis. After the January recruitment, the Millers look a side to be reckoned with at this level.
Derbyshire was being commendably modest but you get his point when he said: “Listen, I think I’ve touched the ball four or five times today and one of them’s gone in.
“The lads doing everything else before me, they’re the main thing, and that’s what we should be looking at really.”
McCarthy turned 56 on the day of the game. The straight-talking Yorkshireman has a reputation for wasting few words- one of the reasons he is so liked and respected by Evans who considers him arguably the best manager in the division - and wasn’t about to let his birthday blues get in the way of the facts.
Pre-match, he had talked about his belief that the Millers would finish close to midtable, and afterwards he dwelled on his own side’s defensive failings then, fair and honest man that he is. delivered two short, telling sentences.
“This is a tough place to come to. Rotherham played well.”
Rotherham United: Collin 7, Richardson 6, Morgan 7, Arnason 7, Fryers 8, Newton 6(Hammill 89), Smallwood 8, Green 9, Pringle 6, Sammon 7 (Ward 75), Derbyshire 8 (Bowery 85). Subs not used: Thompson, Broadfoot, Frecklington, Milsom.
Ipswich Town: Bialkowski 6, Chambers 7, Smith 7, Berra 8, Mings 7, Skuse 7, Bru 7, Anderson 5 (Bishop 52, 7), Tabb (Sears 52, 7), Murphy 6, McGoldrick 7 (N Hunt 75). Subs not used: Kenny, Parr, S Hunt, Clarke.
Manager’s view - Steve Evans: “The nice thing is that we’ve purposefully gone on the training ground and worked on set-plays and we’ve scored from two of them and perhaps could have had more. We’ve had to grind this out today. I think I paid Ipswich a big compliment earlier in the season when I said, under Mick McCarthy, they’re the hardest-working side in this league. Mick gets more than a shift out of these guys. I said to the players today ‘This is going to be a game about endeavour and application and we’ve got enough ability if we can match that. If we don’t Ipswich Town will turn you over’.
Manager’s view - Mick McCarthy: “We had the first couple of chances, didn’t we? Of all people they fall to Murph, the top scorer in the division, and maybe you expect him to take them. He’s come back after his time away though (a one-game injury absence) and maybe that dulls the senses slightly. The game’s going nowhere and they score from a free-kick which is poor marking from us. Actually, when we conceded a second goal it’s after the best spell we had. They had a good save, they had one off the line, but if we defend like that and lose our markers then it will cost us. We let them get away from us from two set-pieces. There’s nothing special, strange or unusual about the deliveries - we should have dealt better with them. I thought Conor Sammon played well. It looked like he’s played games and is back at it. I’m disappointed he’s scored against us, but good luck to him because he’s a great lad.”
Hero: Paul Green was the man of the match for me with his composed reading of the game and relentless running, but this was Matt Derbyshire’s day. Great to see such a warm, heartfelt reception from the fans when he went off.
Key moment: Conor Sammon’s goal. It put the Millers 2-0 just after Ipswich’s best spell of the game and from there the result was never in doubt. A good finish from the big man who has quickly won over Rotherham fans.
Viewpoint: If Rotherham stay up - and I’d be prepared to bet money that they will - they will look back on this as a pivotal day. With all the teams around them losing, there is now significant daylight between them and the drop zone.
Referee watch: Gavin Ward (Surrey). The only official in living memory to escape Steve Evans’ wrath after failing to award a spot-kick. Made some strange decisions througout the game, to the particular annoyance of the home supporters.
Attendance: 10,336 (1,879).