QUALITY may not be there in abundance, but few teams will match Rotherham United for resilience and a never-say-die attitude as they return to the Championship after a nine-year break.
The previous time they staged a game at this level, only 6,549 saw them lose 1-0 to Brighton at ramshackle Millmoor on Saturday, April 30, 2005.
It has been a long road back, but one made possible by the owner of Rotherham-based ASD Lighting PLC, Tony Stewart, who took charge six years ago and was instrumental behind the building of the New York Stadium.
The Millers’ chairman said at the time that he was too old to wait for things to happen and, after back-to-back promotions under Steve Evans, he has got his reward and also the freedom of the borough.
If they had their way, Rotherham fans would give him a knighthood.
The stadium in the heart of the town was close to being full for the visit of Wolves, who romped to the League One title as the Millers went up via the play-offs, and the backing of the majority in the 10,752 – there were 1,650 from the Midlands – played a role when their heroes were under the cosh.
Make no mistake, Wolves could and perhaps should have been out of sight by the break even though the Millers had shown a non-stop desire to hunt the ball down as the visitors hogged possession, working it out from the back.
Adam Collin made crucial close-range reflex saves in succession from the powerful Bakary Sako and, after being robbed when he dallied over a clearance on the edge of the area, first blocked Nouha Dicko’s attempt to score and raced back to keep out the ball when the striker fed the rebound to Rajiv Van La Parra, who looked to have a simple tap-in.
Dicko, who played a goal-scoring part in Rotherham’s surge into the play-offs when on loan to them last season, then curled wide a chip after turning Joe Skarz and this profligacy proved Wolves’ downfall.
They had been given warning before the break when loanee debutant from Ipswich Paul Taylor turned Richard Stearman twice to conjure space for a chip which struck the bar.
Then, Evans withdrew Chelsea loanee John Swift, who had not quite got up to the pace of Championship football, and sent on Ryan Hall, possibly operating in the last chance saloon after his unhappy time at Leeds.
Hall became the injured hero as captain Craig Morgan powered in a 76th-minute header from a corner only to see Carl Ikeme fly to his left to beat the ball away.
Dave Edwards looked set to clear but turned blind and the winger displayed bravery with a block which saw the ball rebound into the goal before he was forced off with a damaged ankle.
Hall’s replacement was last season’s top scorer Kieran Agard, who had missed training on Friday to discuss personal terms with Leeds United only for talks to break down after the clubs had agreed a fee of between £850,000 and £1m.
There was no sulking from Agard, who is back in contention for a start tomorrow even though he could still be on his way as he is in the final year of a contract, which the Millers had hoped he would extend.
It was a player who had made the move in the opposite direction from Elland Road, however, who was the biggest factor behind Rotherham’s refusal to buckle.
Republic of Ireland’s Paul Green was magnificent in the heart of midfield, constantly breaking down Wolves attacks, covering for colleagues when danger threatened and prompting counter-punches which kept the visitors on their toes.
The togetherness in the camp is one of the factors which persuaded Green to sign a two-year deal when he could have opted for Ipswich, whom he joined on loan last season, or Reading.
The former Doncaster Rovers player said: “There is a great team spirit out there and that’s we are all about. We are all in it together.
“The gaffer has brought in some hungry faces who have something to prove and they have blended in really well. We are a very well-drilled team. When I signed he said we are not looking just to stay up in this league, we want to do something and that’s why I have come here.
“There is something happening here and a winning mentality produced by back-to-back promotions. I think we will surprise a lot of teams this season. All the new faces are good quality faces.
“Everyone is chomping at the bit to get a shirt and I think we will make it a tough place to come. Everyone who comes here will know they will be in for a battle for 90 minutes.”
Of his own ambitions, the 31-year-old continued: “I had a bit of a stop-start season last time and I just want to knuckle down and play week-in, week-out. It was nice to make a fresh start at Ipswich after being left out of the squad at Leeds. I loved it under Mick McCarthy at Ipswich where we just fell short of the play-offs.
“But I was impressed by the manager’s ambitions here and the chance to play in a great stadium. I only live down the road at Pontefract so it is also nice to be local and get my family settled.”
Rotherham United: Collin, Broadfoot, Morgan, Arnason, Skarz; Swift (Hall 46, Agard 78), Green, Frecklington, Pringle; Revell, Taylor (Derbyshire 62). Unused substitutes: Loach, Wood, Bowery, Tidser.
Wolverhampton Wanderers: Ikeme, Doherty, Batth, Stearman, Golbourne; Evans, McDonald; La Parra (Jacobs 77), Edwards, Sako (Henry 77); Dicko. Unused substitutes: McCarey, Clarke, Ricketts, McAllinden, Ebanks-Landell.
Referee: G Salisbury (Lancs).