SOME wins are bigger than others, as Rotherham United will testify this morning.
The sun may have been resplendent at the New York Stadium yesterday, but metaphorically dark skies were overhead for the Millers, who came into this game on the back of four dispiriting defeats on the spin.
It was the worst possible time to record such a sequence – the poorest of Steve Evans’s tenure –approaching the business end of the season when fates are decided.
As was Blackpool’s, with the Millers’ precious victory, thanks to a clinically-taken strike by Matt Derbyshire just eight minutes in, consigning them to League One next term.
In contrast, it was blue skies all the way at the final whistle for ecstatic Millers fans, who gave a hearty rendition of “We are staying up” as their heroes moved seven points clear of third-from-bottom Millwall.
The scenes were in marked contrast to the crestfallen emotions at the end of the Millers’ previous home match with Sheffield Wednesday, when the hosts suffered a devastating late defeat.
When asked questions in the final month of the previous two seasons, with promotion at hand, the Millers have invariably looked each other in the eye and delivered.
They rewound the clock at a timely juncture to put in a thoroughly committed performance full of character and desire.
This was personified particularly by Richie Smallwood, whose industry was immense, and matchwinner Derbyshire, whose work ethic was insatiable.
Evans will have heaved a sigh of relief as the Millers arrested a slide that was starting to resemble developments at their South Yorkshire rivals Doncaster 12 months ago, when Rovers got inexorably dragged down into the final relegation spot.
Hailing the win as big as any under his watch, the unforgettable Wembley play-off final win over Leyton Orient last May aside, Evans said: “In terms of pressure match situations, it has got to be up there with last year’s play-offs with the game with Preston.
“I wouldn’t say it’s up there with Wembley, but certainly the Preston game and the Aldershot game on the last day (in 2012-13) because we should not forget the prize is so big for us to stay in the Championship. We have had to put the last three or four results behind us, especially the Wednesday one.
“We have had to regroup as a unit and the players gave us and the supporters everything.”
With Craig Morgan suspended, Evans brought back loanee Farrend Rawson, whose spell has been extended for the rest of the season. Paul Green, Jordan Bowery and Kari Arnason were also recalled.
Any nerves among the holiday crowd dissipated just eight minutes in with a quality strike from Derbyshire, who had also netted in the Good Friday loss at Birmingham City.
Neat play down the right between Green, handed the captain’s armband, and Bowery ended in the latter sending over an inviting cross, which the alert Derbyshire clinically fired past David Stockdale at his near post.
It was Derbyshire’s eighth goal of the season and seventh in the league since January 27.
The Millers were full value for their interval lead, with Brighton’s tempo laborious and threat minimal. Former Rotherham, Wednesday and Barnsley striker Chris O’Grady had a particularly inauspicious afternoon.
Handed the fillip of the opener, Bowery and Green – fully justifying their recalls with bright performances – had opportunities to double the hosts’ tally, but were both off beam.
Bowery headed over when well placed before Green dragged a shot wide after good approach play by Ben Pringle and Derbyshire.
After failing to get going at all in the first period, Brighton were improved on the restart, with Leon Best replacing O’Grady at the interval.
The Seagulls started to boss possession and tried to assert themselves, but resolute Millers repelled them.
The home defence was dissected for the only time on 54 minutes when Beram Kamal was sent clear, only to produce a heavy touch, with Emiliano Martinez racing out to make a brave block.
Bowery then almost diverted Best’s cross into his own net before a fine reaction save from Stockdale denied Derbyshire after excellent work by Daniel Lafferty as the hosts sought a second.
But while Brighton’s intent was much clearer on the restart, real opportunities were scant with substitute Danny Ward going close to sealing it late on, only to fire a shot just wide.
Rotherham United: Martinez; Hunt, Rawson, Broadfoot, Lafferty; Green, Arnason, Smallwood, Pringle; Bowery (Ward 78), Derbyshire. Unused substitutes: Collin; Rowe, Hammill, Milsom, Newton, Frecklington.
Brighton & Hove Albion: Stockdale; Bruno, Dunk, Halford, Bennett; Ince, Kayal, Stephens; Carayol (Teixeira 81), O’Grady (Best 45), LuaLua (Mackail-Smith 75). Unused substitutes: Walton, Calderon, Hughes, Forster-Caskey.
Referee: Kevin Wright (Cambridgeshire).