Dan Barlaser, Chiedozie Ogbene and Ollie Rathbone epitome character of promotion-chasing Rotherham United

STARTING his programme notes for the Oxford game, music fan Paul Warne revealed that Journey’s song ‘Don’t Stop Believin’ had been ringing around his head for the past few weeks amid Rotherham United’s bumpy promotion ride.

After the final whistle on Saturday, he might just have been humming a number from another US rock band in Steely Dan.

It has been an eventful time of it of late for Rotherham midfielder Dan Barlaser. He recently became a father for the first time and chalked up a century of league appearances for the club.

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Like any good father, he takes responsibility when it matters.

Dan Barlaser celebrates scoring Rotherham's second goal from the spot with Michael Smith and Ollie Rathbone. (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

Like on Saturday, when he showed courage to coolly convert a vital penalty midway through the second half after having earlier scored an own goal to put Oxford ahead, as Rotherham’s automatic promotion quest continued to worryingly stutter.

It completed his own – and the Millers – comeback at the AESSEAL New York Stadium where the signature tune of the king of comebacks in Frank Sinatra is belted out before kick-off and at the final whistle.

Barlaser helped ensure that the Millers’ lap of appreciation after what they desperately hope will be their final home match of 2021-22 was a pleasant one.

In terms of contributions, he was not alone. That is why it is so hard not to like Rotherham United, a team of good players and characters who share the load.

Rarmani Edmonds-Green heads in the Millers' equaliser against Oxford United. (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

All successful sides have those attributes, with the Millers abundant in players willing to make sacrifices for the team as Chiedozie Ogbene stated afterwards.

On his 50th appearance for the club, Ollie Rathbone ran himself to a standstill as did the tireless Michael Smith in what may have been his final game at the NYS.

Making his 200th appearance for United, Richard Wood donned the war paint and was his usual warrior-type self at the back.

He should have earned his side an early penalty, but fortunately, the hosts did eventually get one.

Dan Barlaser celebrates scoring Rotherham's second goal from the spot (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

Others such as first goalscorer Rarmani Edmonds-Green and Ogbene stepped up in Rotherham’s time of need as they hauled themselves over the line amid some unbearable tension in this corner of South Yorkshire for the second successive Saturday.

They remain favourites for the second automatic promotion slot ahead of MK Dons. Four points from their last two fixtures at Sunderland and Gillingham will definitely do it, although three will probably be enough.

In the week when Oxford recalled the anniversary of their Milk Cup final win at Wembley in 1986, it was the Millers who showed the bottle on Saturday, especially in the second half.

Warne said: “I appreciate my managerial stint will end here one day. If there’s anything I’d like to think the fans think about our teams, it’s that they’ve always got a real energy and don’t give up.

Rotherham United's Oliver Rathbone and Oxford United's Herbie Kane (Picture: PA)

“They fight and scrap and definitely did that in the second half and I was really proud of them.”

For just the second time this season, Rotherham won a league game after going behind.

Against an Oxford side who needed to win to keep alive their own play-off dream and were backed by an expectant band of supporters, things started badly for a wobbling Millers side who needed a settler after four defeats in their previous five games.

Sam Long got away too easily from Jordi Osei-Tutu down the right. His low cross posted danger with Matty Taylor lurking at the far post, only for Barlaser to slide in and divert the ball in.

Nervy was the word Warne used to describe his side’s first-half display and he was right. Not that the Millers played too badly, but their decision-making in the final third, admittedly not helped by a testing wind, was awry.

Fortunately, they saved themselves seconds before the break.

Late in the half, the hosts won a few corners and from the second, the ball broke for Ben Wiles who produced a bit of quality to enable Edmonds-Green to hold off his marker and head home his first goal on home soil for United.

How they needed that adrenalin rush and it changed the nature of Warne’s team talk in an instant.

The Millers never looked back. Attacking the end where Oxford’s fans were housed may have even helped them after tightening up in front of the home faithful in the North Stand in the first half.

Barlaser stepped up to the plate after Luke McNally bundled over Ogbene after he had chased a lost cause and cut inside.

On good friend Barlaser, who he treats like a brother, Ogbene said: “Dan is a top player and I would not trust anyone else with that penalty. He trains himself to be calm in those situations and I am just so happy for him.”

It was a bit like a basketball game after that in an open final quarter. Smith had chances to seal it as did Wiles. At the other end, Marcus Browne and Long, late on, had chances for Oxford.

The shrill of the final whistle was glorious and relieving, with Oxford players left in tears.

“See you next season”, the NYS announcer said to home fans.

Hopefully...

Rotherham patrons certainly don’t want to be back here again until high summer.