After hitting the equivalent of the fast lane in their 6-1 weekend demolition of Bolton Wanderers, the Millers’ hopes of driving home a similarly powerful message to their upwardly-mobile League One rivals did not quite transpire.
But a draw against a Sunderland side beaten just once in their previous 27 home league matches during the reign of Jack Ross was still a result that was decidedly healthy in anyone’s book – and one that Paul Warne would have gladly taken beforehand.
Given his side’s imposing second half, he will have been slightly disappointed not to go away with all three points, with the boos at the end from home supporters – followed by applause from the away contingent – representing the sweetest of music.
No one can deny that United did it the hard way after falling behind after just 31 seconds courtesy of Marc McNulty’s gift-wrapped opener.
But their reaction following a testing opening half-hour when the hosts, inspired by the bewitching wingcraft of Aiden McGeady, gave the vast majority of the 29,000 crowd plenty to roar their approval at, showcased the very best characteristics of the Warne era.
Purpose, energy and spirit were witnessed in abundance –and resilience too with the Millers – and more especially keeper Daniel Iversen surviving a test of mettle just before the half-hour when he saved McGeady’s casual spot-kick.
Iversen was not fooled by the former Sheffield Wednesday loanee’s stuttering run-up and gathered his weak penalty – awarded after Clark Robertson’s needless challenge on Dylan McGeouch.
Thankfully, it was Millers winger Jake Hastie’s turn to hog the stage on the restart, with his ferociously-struck left-footed equaliser midway through the second half crowning an excellent response from Rotherham.
Used to chilly winds by the North Sea coast, a concession so early represented an icy blast smack bang in the face of the visitors.
Caught napping following Alim Ozturk’s free-kick punt forward, Rotherham’s defensive sloppiness was ruthlessly exposed by the unmarked McNulty, who controlled the ball in an instant before rounding Iversen and slotting home the softest of openers.
The Scot could scarcely believe his luck and a Matt Olosunde slip almost provided him with a second early sight of goal as the Millers continued to palpitate at the back. With McGeady having the ball on a piece of string at times, it had the makings of a long night for United.
That was reinforced when the Republic of Ireland international soon conjured a moment from his repertoire to cut inside and curl a sweet shot which was destined for the top corner, only for Iversen to make a stunning one-handed parry.
The young Dane then refused to blink in a battle of wills with McGeady from the penalty spot.
It had the effect of galvanising the Millers, who finally discovered their mojo and troubled Sunderland in the lead-up to the break.
Former Sunderland target Freddie Ladapo’s point-blank header was straight at a relieved Jon McLaughlin, while Matt Crooks should have done better when heading over with the goal at the mercy.
That miss compounded the angst of the away contingent who had seen referee Ben Toner remain unmoved following two decent penalty appeals.
Despite the non-award of two penalty claims, Rotherham’s confidence was not visibly affected as they put further concerted pressure on the Sunderland defence on the resumption.
Failing to score a killer second goal in league games last season proved an Achilles heel in the Wearsiders’ failure to secure a top-two finish in 2018-19 and a recurrence of that habit provided hope to the Millers.
A half-chance saw McLaughlin deny Hastie, but the home custodian was powerless to prevent the winger lashing home the leveller following good work from Ladapo, who dispossessed Ozturk.
It was no more than the Millers deserved, with Hastie soon bending a shot over as those in purple spied a famous win.
A rare, but significant moment of concern at the other end saw Iversen again continue his noteworthy night with a key one-on-one block to thwart substitute Charlie Wyke after an initial mistake from Ben Wiles as Sunderland sought a momentum-turner.
Amid late pressure, the Millers held firm to pocket their reward.
Sunderland: J McLaughlin; C McLaughlin (Maguire 70), Willis, Ozturk, Hume; McGeouch, Dobson; O’Nien, Gooch (Grigg 85), McGeady; McNulty (Wyke 60). Unused substitutes: Burge, Power, Flanagan, Grigg, Leadbitter.
Rotherham United: Iversen; Olosunde, Ihiekwe, Robertson, Mattock; Wiles, Crooks, Lindsay; Hastie (MacDonald 88), Ladapo (Barlaser 90), Morris (Smith 81). Unused substitutes: Price, Wood, Jones, Lamy.
Referee: B Toner (Lancashire).