Match Verdict: Rotherham United 1 Middlesbrough 0
After the derby delight, the midweek magic.
Rotherham United barely had time to bask in the joy of beating Sheffield Wednesday last weekend before promotion-chasing Middlesbrough came to town.
And they duly saw off another promotion contender, with an 86th-minute thunderbolt from Lee Frecklington, as the survival bandwagon gathered even more pace under new boss Neil Warnock.
Greg Halford was sent off for a second yellow card in the 90th minute, but brilliant, last-ditch defending, with Richard Wood and Kirk Broadfoot to the fore, saw the Millers hold out for a famous victory.
This was the first time since their return to the Championship in 2014 they have won three consecutive games, the first time they have beaten Boro, the first time they have even scored against them.
It won’t be the last time they win, with Warnock having such an amazing effect. Rotherham are now just one point from safety after being six adrift just 11 days ago.
There were tumultuous scenes at AESSEAL New York Stadium as the referee blew the final whistle.
Boro arrived in the top two, presented a huge test of the Millers’ safety credentials and should have been at least two goals ahead at half-time.
“I’m not the Messiah,” said Warnock. “I’ve got a really genuine bunch of lads who are working their socks off for me.
“Middlesbrough are the best side we’ve played, but they ran out of ideas in the end. They ripped us apart in the first half.
“Keeping Rotherham up would be my best achievement by a mile.”
After a cagey start, the Millers had a big let-off in the 16th minute when last man Wood lost out to David Nugent who raced clear only to shoot over the bar.
The home side, competitive and battling hard, were asking questions on the break, but the near-misses mounted for the visitors.
Gaston Ramirez hit the post with a 25-yard free-kick after 24 minutes, wasn’t far off with a long-range effort and tested Lee Camp just before half-time, while Nugent headed wide from Adomah’s 35th-minute cross when it seemed easier to score.
Leon Best snatched at his shot in the 26th minute after Jerome Thomas and Halford had created Rotherham’s main sight of goal in the first half and Halford wasn’t far away with a 44th-minute volley from outside the box.
Warnock’s men, with Halford moved from wide right into a defensive midfield role, came much more into the match in the second half, and ball after ball into the box gave Boro problems.
Halford had a header he couldn’t direct on target while Frecklington fired a snap-shot over from a Kirk Broadfoot nod-down following Jerome Thomas’ corner, although clear-cut chances were hard to come by.
Despite the introduction of £9 million striker Jordan Rhodes, Boro didn’t threaten anything like as much after the break.
Then, Frecklington, putting in another lung-bursting shift, showed them how to finish with four minutes left, crashing the ball home after substitute Jonson Clarke-Harris’ low feed from the left which evaded everybody in the penalty area.
Cue delirium to match the scenes at the end.
“It’s the happiest I’ve seen the dressing room in a long time,” said the goal hero afterwards.
The Millers had made two changes from last Saturday, bringing in striker Leon Best and left winger Jerome Thomas and dropping Danny and Grant Ward to the bench.
Halford, nicknamed Victor Meldrew in the Millers camp for his grumbling, had plenty to moan about as he left the field, leaving his 10 teammates to fight a desperate and ultimately successful rearguard action in four minutes of time added on.
Wonderful Warnock. Fabulous Frecks. Marvellous Millers. And one foot out of the grave.
Rotherham United (4-4-2): Camp; Richardson (Kelly 24), Wood, Broadfoot, Mattock; Halford, Smallwood, Frecklington, Thomas (Clarke-Harris 75); Derbyshire, Best (D Ward 58). Subs not used: Kenny, Green, Newell, G Ward.
Middlesbrough (4-2-3-1): Dimi; Nsue, Fry, Gibson, Friend; Clayton, Forshaw; Stuani (Downing 64), Ramirez, Adomah; Nugent (Rhodes 75). Subs not used: Agazzi, Leadbitter, De Pena, De Sart, Kalas.
Goals: Frecklington, 86 (Rotherham).
Referee: Peter Bankes (Merseyside).
Attendance: 10,783 (2,623).