Despite playing their part in an epic encounter on Tuesday night, Rotherham United’s overwhelming reaction after a draining 90 minutes against the Championship’s joint-leaders was one of ‘what might have been’.
Manager Steve Evans and midfielder Paul Green trudged off the field at the New York Stadium feeling disappointed that although they had pushed Derby County to the edge of their limits, it had not yielded the full three points.
It was Green who lit the bluetouch paper on a thrilling evening that ended with the two teams at opposite ends of the table sharing six goals.
That Green and company were deflated after their 3-1 lead was erased by Steve McClaren’s free-flowing Rams, tells its own story about how far the club have come since being tormented in the first half of the opening game of the season by Derby at the iPro Stadium.
Although the draw saw Rotherham gain no ground in terms of position, the point edges them four points clear of the bottom three.
Ask any Millers fan if they will accept 21st place come the end of the season and they would no doubt snap your hand off, while privately, the players and staff would do likewise.
But such was their performance on Tuesday night, and their recent form, Green – the former Derby, Doncaster and Leeds midfielder – is hoping it is not a dropped two points that comes back to haunt them in the final analysis.
“We’ve come off a bit disappointed, to be honest,” continued Green. “We put everything into that game and it’s very disappointing to not get the three points, but we can’t grumble.
“They came back well. That’s why they are where they are in the league. They’ve got that fighting spirit and they never say die.
“We’re happy with where we are, with how we’re playing. If we keep playing like that, I’m sure we’ll be fine.”
Green was part of a midfield unit that played very narrow in an attempt to deny Derby’s roaming attack-minded players.
“We were tight in midfield because we know where their qualities lie. We matched them well in the first half and obviously started the second half well,” he said.
“It’s nicely knitted together at the minute. It’s compact and we know each other’s play.
“It’s showing out there and it’s showing in the results as well. In the last few games we’ve picked up some vital points.”
Green’s first-half goal was quickly cancelled out by Tom Ince – the Hull City loanee – who has proven a revelation for Derby since joining on deadline day.
Ince’s second of the game brought Derby back into it at 3-2 after quickfire goals from Richie Smallwood and Matt Derbyshire had given Rotherham a scarcely-believable 3-1 lead.
Darren Bent, another expensive loanee on the Derby books, snatched an equaliser seven minutes from time.
With both Green and Smallwood on the scoresheet on Tuesday night, those goals from midfield could prove invaluable as Rotherham seek to continue their rise away from trouble.
Derbyshire has rediscovered his scoring touch ahead of them and with Connor Sammon due back on Saturday for the trip to Wolves having sat out Tuesday’s game against his parent club, the portents are promising for continued success in front of goal.
Not that Green will celebrate as vociferously as he did against Derby, with the experienced schemer breaking the unwritten rule about players not celebrating against their former clubs.
Green explained: “I’ve missed a couple of chances here in recent weeks so it was nice to get on the scoresheet again.
“As for celebrating, everything just came on top of me and it just came out! Against Blackburn I missed one late on and was really disappointed with that.”
Green’s disappointment at the end result was matched by Evans, although the Millers boss was also proud of a performance that underscores Rotherham’s growing status in the second tier.
“What an advert for Rotherham United being (in) the Championship,” said the Scot. “There’s tinges of great disappointment having been 3-1 up.
“We got a point but we have come across the best team and manager in the division.
“They have laid siege, there is some sloppy defending from us, but we are immensely proud of them.
“We have got a point and we are a bit disappointed. Every player gave me everything, I can’t ask for any more, but we are disappointed.
“We will take a point and we will be a coupon buster for most people around the country. We have taken a team which will be in the Premier League right to the wire.”
While Rotherham were frustrated, it was more relief for Derby that they escaped with a point.
Rams boss Steve McClaren said: “That could turn out to be one of the most valuable points we get. Credit to Rotherham, they played with a fierceness and tempo and we didn’t match it.”