After the elation of scoring a stoppage-time equaliser three days earlier came the deflation of conceding a last-gasp leveller last night. Such is life in the Championship.
Rotherham United were on course for three huge points against in-form QPR last night, a victory that would have taken them five points clear of the relegation zone.
A momentary lapse and three points became one, the eighth time in the last 10 games that Rotherham have drawn.Nick Westby
It would have been just rewards as well for a performance high on endeavour and character.
But just as they dashed Sheffield United’s hopes of victory on Saturday lunchtime with Jamie Proctor’s ‘92nd-minute’ strike, so their own bid for three points was cruelly ripped from their grasp.
This time it was a simple ball into the box, just as the fans were tightening in their seats at the announcement of five minutes of stoppage time, that Luke Freeman greeted with a stooping header at the front post to steer beyond Marek Rodak.
A momentary lapse and three points became one, the eighth time in the last 10 games that Rotherham have drawn.
They have become a team that is difficult to beat, but one finding increasing ways in which to beat themselves.
On their return to the second tier after a swift promotion following that wretched relegation campaign of two years ago, Rotherham were always going to have to work hard for every point. QPR reminded them of that last night, even if the Millers came close to a fifth win of the season.
The key to Rotherham having the upper hand for so long was a togetherness and a unity that they will need in every game they play in a money-rich Championship where the odds are stacked firmly against them. But the fact that they can play a bit too, has surprised a few.
That fact was embodied in their opening goal, a sweetly-struck first-time shot from Will Vaulks.
Their character shone through in how quickly they responded to a sloppy concession of an equaliser with Clark Robertson’s looping header.
And their desire to protect what they had was embodied in two wonderful saves by Rodak as QPR pressed, their manager Steve McClaren throwing caution to the wind by introducing the nimble Tomer Hemed and the lanky Matt Smith with 15 minutes remaining.
Up until then, Rotherham had been good value for their lead, earned in the first instance with a sublime bit of football.
There looked to be too much pace on Zak Vyner’s raking cross-field ball into the left channel but Jon Taylor was able to get enough on it to take Angel Rangel out of the equation. With room to attack he cut the ball back to Richie Towell who in turn slid the ball across the edge of the area into the path of the on-rushing Vaulks.
There was still plenty to do but the midfielder met the ball first-time, kept his head over the ball, and drilled it across Joe Lumley into the corner.
As praise-worthy as Rotherham’s opener was, the equaliser they conceded five minutes later was avoidable.
The danger appeared to have been averted when Nahki Wells was unable to control a through ball in the box and even when Pawel Wszolek crossed it back into the box, Ryan Williams should have been able to make a simple clearance.
But he scuffed his connection and the ball spun into the path of Wells who turned on it and stroked it past Rodak.
Such a basic error could have rocked the Millers but within three minutes the hosts were back in front. Vaulks was again involved, floating in a free-kick that centre-back Clark Robertson met with a flighted header that looped over Lumley.
All that and only 15 minutes had elapsed. The pace slowed after that frantic nine-minute spell.
Wells and Towell traded chances, and Jake Bidwell and Wszolek entered the referee’s notebook as QPR stymied the Millers’ energy.
The lively Wells, though, continued to ensure Rotherham could not take their foot off the gas.
Playing as the lone front man, the former Bradford City and Huddersfield Town striker was a constant threat.
There were chances to calm home nerves at the other end. Ajayi shot straight at Lumley when well-placed and Richard Wood powered a header over. QPR should have been level midway through the second half when Luke Freeman swung in an inviting cross but Wszolek failed to get enough on it.
He was immediately replaced by Hemed, who along with the introduction of Smith, changed the complexion and Rodak was at his best to make two fine saves. First he had to spring to his left to palm away Freeman’s rasping drive and then from the resulting corner, Rodak had to get a clenched fist on Eze’s volley.
He got a touch on Freeman’s’s header in the ‘91st-minute’ but it was only to claw it desperately into the roof of his net.
Cruel on Rotherham, but typical of the Championship.
Rotherham United: Rodak, Vyner, Ajayi, Robertson, Mattock; Taylor (Newell 60), Vaulks, Palmer (Wood 69), Williams (Proctor 86); Towell, Michael Smith. Unused substitutes: Price, Forde, Wiles.
Queens Park Rangers: Lumley, Rangel, Lynch, Leistner, Bidwell; Cameron, Luongo (Matt Smith 76); Wszolek (Hemed 68), Eze, Freeman; Wells (Scowen 76). Unused substitutes: Ingram, Hall, Cousins, Osayi-Samuel.
Referee: A Woolmer (Northamptonshire).