Rotherham United: Millers 2 Cardiff 1 match verdict and reaction

Cardiff keeper David Marshall is sent off. Pictures: Jim Brailsford
Cardiff keeper David Marshall is sent off. Pictures: Jim Brailsford

He stood in delight, arms aloft, a huge smile across his face, the late-afternoon sun catching his silvery-white hair.

No, not boss Steve Evans after Rotherham United had scored the match-clinching goal in the last few seconds against Cardiff City. He was too busy running on to the pitch and jumping around in delirious celebration.

Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe scores from the spot

Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe scores from the spot

This was chairman Tony Stewart from his vantage point high in the West Stand. He cut a slightly more restrained figure than his manager, but the joy was written all over his face.

Like everyone else, after a start to the Championship season which had seen the Millers bag just two points from seven games, he was relishing the release from tension after a nerve-wracking second half - and, of course, that winning feeling.

Evans later joked that his dash out of his technical area after substitutes Chris Maguire and Emmanuel Ledesma had forced Bluebirds defender Matthew Connolly into an own goal had seen him pull his groin, hamstring and calf.

He’d also pulled a victory out of the hat just when he and the club really needed one.

Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe celebrates

Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe celebrates

Rotherham remain at the foot of the table but are back in the mix with a host of other clubs, and another three-point haul could, conceivably, see them climb out of the drop zone and as high as 19th.

After a moment of downright stupidity by visiting goalkeeper David Marshall, the Millers had played the entire second half against 10 men. The atmosphere was at fever pitch as the home side camped in the opposition half and created a glut of chances, but the Bluebirds held out.

When a beautifully-struck 20-yard volley by Joe Newell crashed back off the post a minute into three of time added on, it looked like the miserable stamp on an afternoon of mounting frustration.

That’s why the goal two minutes later meant so much.

Joy after the winning goal

Joy after the winning goal

Maguire drove down the right, crossed low and Connolly, who had put up resistance as staunch as any from a player in a Cardiff shirt, found himself under pressure at the near post from Ledesma’s lunge. The centre-half could only watch in horror as the ball hit his outstretched leg and trickled over the line.

He held his head in his hands as AESSEAL New York Stadium erupted.

Afterwards, Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe revealed that Millers teammate Ledesma had been dancing round the dressing room trying to claim the goal for himself, and Evans tried manfully to give the credit to his player.

“It’s not an own goal. When you go home and look at the replays, the boy, Ledesma, gets a toe across it and sticks it in,” he maintained, and I don’t think he really believed what he was saying himself. “That’s what it looks like and that’s what he’s telling me!”

Belgian international Odjidja-Ofoe, who was a big threat on his home debut, wasn’t buying it, and neither was anyone else.

Pulled groin, hamstring and calf for Big Steve. Pull the other one, Manu.

Rotherham had been on top against Cardiff’s 11 men, who had arrived in sixth place, before the game caught fire at the end of the first half.

Jonson Clarke-Harris, looking more and more like he belongs in the Championship, was inches from connecting in front of an open goal with a cross from the right from Matt Derbyshire, who was then a key player in the drama that followed nine minutes later.

As Marshall looked to throw the ball out to a teammate in the 41st minute, Derbyshire pulled at the shot-stopper’s arm to prevent an early release. The Cardiff man saw red, aimed a kick at the Rotherham striker and then saw red again literally as referee Keith Hill sent him off and awarded a penalty.

Cardiff boss Russell Slade agreed with the colour of the card but thought his side should have been given a free-kick for Derbyshire’s intervention. Evans said his man was doing only what every striker in the country does.

Whatever, Scottish international Marshall was left kicking himself far harder than he had Derbyshire as he trooped from the field.

After a three-minute delay, during which Slade sacrificed striker Joe Mason for sub keeper Simon Moore, Odjidja-Ofoe - feeling confident enough to take spot-kick duties off Derbyshire, who had missed from the spot in the last home game, against Fulham - stepped up to send Moore the wrong way.

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League penalties at New York are obviously like buses. You wait in vain for a full campaign last term for one and then two arrive at almost the same time.

This wouldn’t be Rotherham this season if they didn’t concede close to half-time and when Odjidja-Ofoe put his hand on Fabio Da Silva’s shoulder to impede his run into the area in the last seconds of the first half, with Peter Whittingham calmly converting from the spot, the Millers’ lead had lasted barely five minutes.

The second half? One-way traffic, as Cardiff put two banks of four behind the ball and invited Rotherham to try to break them down. My notebook doesn’t record a single attacking effort from them, while my Millers column runs to three pages.

Fifty-one minutes, Clarke-Harris’s volley brings a superb diving save from Moore; 60 minutes, Clarke-Harris’s header from Newell’s cross is just wide; 63, Derbyshire’s header is saved; 69, Joe Mattock’s shot in a goalmouth scramble is blocked and Danny Collins fires the ricochet wide; 73, Derbyshire pokes over Ledesma’s cross after cleverly getting across his man; 78, Farrend Rawson heads over from three yards out, leaning backwards to connect with Derbyshire’s fierce cross; 79, Clarke-Harris’s flying header from another Newell supply is just wide; 90+1, Newell’s dynamite volley thuds off the keeper’s left-hand post.

Then, wonderfully, 90+3, Connolly own goal, Millers lead 2-1. No time left. Crazy scenes. Season up and running.

The anxiety in the stands after the interval had grown in tandem with the number of missed opportunites, and the outpouring of relief at the end as the ball bobbled slowly but surely over the Bluebirds’ line was up there with some of New York’s best moments.

As I was heading to the after-match press interviews, Alex Revell was warming down by the centre circle and, as we have kept in touch since his departure, I shouted across the pitch to him.

The hero of two Rotherham promotions and Wembley League One Play-off Final legend had come on for Cardiff in the later stages and been given a rousing reception by the home faithful who will never forget his contribution to their club.

We exchanged waves and, top lad that he is, his acknowledgement was genuine. But the pain of what had just happened was still smarting and the smile he mustered was strained and weak.

Contrast that to the ecstatic beams of Stewart in the stand, Evans on the pitch and all in the Millers camp.

Rotherham United (4-4-2): Camp 7; Buxton 6, Rawson 7, Collins 7, Mattock 7; Odjidja-Ofoe 8, Smallwood 6, Andreu 5 (Ledesma, 68, 6), Newell 6; Clarke-Harris 8, Derbyshire 7 (Maguire 82). Subs not used: Collin, G Ward, D Ward, Green, Halford.

Cardiff City (4-4-2): Marshall 4; Peltier 6, Morrison 8, Connolly 8, Da Silva 6; Noone 5 (Jones 76), Dikgaco 6i, Whittingham 6, Ralls 5; Mason 5, Ameobi 6 (Revell 86). Subs not used: Moore, Ecuele Manga, Pilkiington, Gunnarsson, Malone.

Goals: Odjidja-Ofoe pen 44, Connolly og 90+3 (Rotherham); Whittingham pen 45+4 (Cardiff).

Referee: Keith Hill (Hertfordshire).

Attendance: 8,935 (818).