THE SCENES, as if a microcosm of the two clubs’ respective seasons, could not have been more contrasting when Tommy Smith’s stoppage-time winner arrowed into the back of the net.
As a scrum of luminous Huddersfield Town shirts chased Smith towards the 2,500 visiting fans celebrating wildly behind Richard O’Donnell’s goal, those sporting red looked the very epitome of crestfallen.
A couple of Paul Warne’s players even slumped to the floor, almost as if Smith had delivered a knockout blow to the Millers by firing through a scrum of players to settle what had been an enthralling derby contest.
In a season where Rotherham have had to endure many bodyblows, this one really hurt.
It was a similar story on three, by now stunned into silence, sides of the New York Stadium as the realisation a night that had twice seen the home side lead would end with the familiar feeling of defeat hit home.
For Warne, that crushing sense of disappointment was mixed with one of pride at his side’s display. And it is why the club’s interim manager refuses to give up despite Rotherham’s seemingly doomed position at the foot of the Championship.
“There is a glimmer of hope,” said Warne, when asked about the chances of United avoiding the drop to League One.
“The lads are proud to wear the shirt of this great club, as I am to manage it. We need to get the results the fans want to see.
“If we are going toe to toe with the best teams in the league then we can’t have too many complaints.”
On Tuesday night, Rotherham certainly did that. Goals from Semi Ajayi and Tom Adeyemi twice put the Millers ahead against the promotion-chasing visitors. They also caused untold problems for Town, not least in an opening quarter when it seemed every set-piece for the hosts might end with the ball in Danny Ward’s net.
Ultimately, however, Smith’s stoppage-time strike meant all that effort counted for little as a 23rd league defeat of the season left Warne’s side 12 points adrift at the foot of the table.
“I have told the lads that even if it is mathematically impossible to stay up, I won’t let up on them,” added the Millers chief, who will be without both Tuesday’s goalscorers at Cardiff City this weekend due to the terms of their loan switch from south Wales.
“I will still demand absolute 100 per cent out of each of them in every game. Psychology is key in sport and, obviously, we are at the other end of the table (to Huddersfield), possibly a few of my lads feel sorry for themselves.
“They have been on the back end of a few bad results, whereas Huddersfield are the in-form team of this league and used to winning every week. They have complete self-belief.”
Warne’s Huddersfield counterpart, David Wagner, will certainly agree on that last point. His side – who welcome Premier League title-chasers Manchester City in the FA Cup on Saturday – exude confidence at the moment after a run that has yielded 31 points from their last 12 games.
Town may have left it late to triumph 3-2 on Tuesday night but Wagner insists his own belief in the players never wavered. “It maybe sound ridiculous but I was pretty relaxed because I had so much trust in the players and knew how well they had played in the second half,” he added.
Thanks to Newcastle United and Brighton & Hove Albion being held to draws, Town’s win in South Yorkshire narrowed the gap to the automatic promotion places to just four points.
Wagner may still refuse to countenance the thought of Huddersfield finishing in the top two but he was in no doubt as to what the win over the Millers could mean for his side’s season.
“Some people said (beating) Brighton (earlier this month) was a statement,” he added. “And (beating) Leeds was a statement. But Rotherham was a big statement. We came back twice and kept believing in ourselves. This for me was the biggest statement.”