A first victory in 10 games to lift them out of the relegation zone and a first goal for Michael Smith at the New York Stadium since August – but Rotherham United would be foolish to think a corner has been turned.
Granted, starting the new year with only a fifth win of the season and a first for two months is a welcome shot in the arm.
But a glance at a bench showing six players instead of the regulation seven and after watching a first half which they would have been lucky to end level never mind ahead, suggests January will be a hugely important month for the Millers.
Recruits are needed badly, to beef up the numbers in the first instance and add quality in the second.
Chairman Tony Stewart was awarded an OBE in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours list but if he digs deep to finance a recruitment drive this month that keeps them in the Championship come May, Millers fans will crown him the knight of their realm.
Assistant manager Richie Barker is certainly under no illusions about the reinforcements that are needed.
“If you’d have asked us about recruits six weeks ago we’d have said ‘no’ but Ryan Manning going back (to QPR) leaves us one short and the fact we’ve got a 17-year-old and an 18-year-old on the bench shows that we are always just three or four injuries or suspensions away from having that situation again,” he said.
“So we are going to be looking this month.”
Injuries to Clark Robertson and Zak Vyner, coupled with suspensions for Billy Jones and Richie Towell, plus Manning’s recall by QPR, left Rotherham badly exposed on the pitch.
But what they lack in numbers and, at times, quality, Rotherham can often make up for with an abundance of heart.
We are delighted to get three points but are well aware we need to improve things.Rotherham United’s Richie Barker
And New Year’s Day was one of those occasions.
They had no right being anywhere near Preston after 20 minutes with the Lilywhites slicing through them time and again only for Tom Barkhuizen, Graham Burke and Paul Huntington to squander glorious chances.
Preston also felt they should have been playing with a man advantage after Matt Palmer was only booked for pulling down Barkhuizen when through on goal.
Will Vaulks’s thunderbolt of a free-kick on the cusp of half-time gave the Millers a lead they did not deserve but in the second half, after a couple of tactical changes, the hosts were better organised and disciplined, and by the time of their second goal on 76 minutes – a downward header from Smith after a delightful cross from Joe Newell – they had asserted more control on the game.
“Will’s goal changed nothing for us,” said Barker, who with manager Paul Warne replaced Palmer with Anthony Forde and Jon Taylor with Newell.
“We knew we had to change the personnel. We’ve already shown we’re not afraid to make changes at half-time.”
That Preston’s Lukas Nmecha had pulled a goal back within 90 seconds with a smart piece of control and finishing, thus setting up a nervy last 12 minutes, was typical of how hard Rotherham have to work for every win at this level. But where Bolton, Stoke and QPR have hit the Millers with late levellers already this season, this time there was enough resolve among the home ranks to hold on.
“Our game-management towards the end may not have been overly entertaining but it’s what you need to do,” added Barker.
“They don’t know when they’re beaten this team.
“We’re always telling them there’s various ways to win a football match and one of those is to dig in when things are not going well and if we can do that and win then we’ve got a chance of staying up this season. We are delighted to get three points but are well aware we need to improve things.”
Rotherham United: Rodak; Ajayi, Raggett, Wood, Mattock; Taylor (Newell 46), Vaulks, Palmer (Forde 46), Williams; Wiles, Smith. Unused substitutes: Price, Yates, Hinds, Southern-Cooper.
Preston North End: Rudd; Clarke, Storey, Huntington, Hughes (Woods 67); Ledson, Johnson, Barkhuizen, Burke; Gallagher, Nmecha. Unused substitutes: Crowe, Fisher, Simpson, Baxter, O’Reilly, Walker.
Referee: L Probert (Wiltshire).