A LATE Jordan Bowery equaliser earned a vital leveller for relegation-haunted Rotherham United as they salvaged something from the toughest of weeks against promotion-chasing Norwich City in a pulsating 1-1 draw.
Bowery headed home four minutes from time following a cross from fellow substitute Adam Hammill to save the Millers’ skins, with the hosts playing with a man disadvantage for over an hour after ex-Rotherham forward Lewis Grabban was dismissed after aiming a punch at home captain Craig Morgan.
Norwich, needing a victory to maintain their automatic promotion hopes and unbeaten on the road in the league since December 28, contrived a majestic opener, despite having just ten men, with a sublime strike from another replacement in Gary Hooper just before the hour putting them in front.
But Bowery clinched what could be a huge point for the Millers, docked three points by a Football League disciplinary panel yesterday after fielding an ineligible player in Farrend Rawson in the Easter Monday win over Brighton.
The Millers will clinch their safety if they beat Reading at home on Tuesday evening.
Steve Evans, whose side spent much of the afternoon in the bottom three until Derby’s late comeback at Millwall, used the sense of injustice to fire his players up.
“It was about desire to bounce, we feel people don’t want us to be around in this great competition,” he said.
“We told them to show them desire and to go and have a fight. If I get the same application in the next two games then I’ll be delighted.
“It was a stunning performance, as soon as we changed the system after they dominated the opening 10 minutes the game changed.
“We sit here and go away frustrated, we counted five simple, simple chances that we missed.”
The strike from Bowery spared the blushes of Matt Derbyshire, who produced an incredible miss 15 minutes from time to make it 1-1, but somehow miss the target in a real contender for miss of the season.
The main talking point of a tense half arrived on 26 minutes when Grabban received his marching orders after an altercation with Morgan.
The pair tussled and Morgan appeared to get Grabban in a headlock, with referee Mark Brown indicating that the Canaries player directed an attempted punch towards the chest of the home player.
The Millers couldn’t use their numerical advantage to produce a priceless opener, with their best moment arriving 32 minutes when Norwich were short of numbers following a home breakaway with Derbyshire’s inviting low cross on the right latched onto by Danny Ward, whose crisp first-time strike whistled just wide with the goal at his mercy.
The game started with Norwich getting out of the traps in express fashion and soon bossing territory, before the Millers came back into proceedings.
The first chance of note arrived at the feet of Canaries winger Nathan Redmond, whose angled low 25-yarder took a slight deflection before being saved smartly by Emi Martinez.
The Millers settled and an excellent low cross from Jack Hunt just evaded Ward before Kirk Broadfoot’s header following Ben Pringle’s free-kick was grasped by John Ruddy.
A timely block from Morgan then saved the hosts in the nick of time after good work down the left between Bradley Johnson and Martin Olsson, with the latter firing in a dangerous low cross.
More pressure saw Grabban fire wide before a more fateful contribution saw him receive his marching orders, despite big protests from visiting players - as the game swung in the Millers’ favour.
Norwich soon brought on Hooper to replace Wes Hoolahan, with the half ending with a couple of half-chances for the Millers, with Pringle’s volley saved and Kari Arnason heading off target.
Millwall’s 2-1 interval lead over Derby positioned the Millers into the relegation zone, as results stood at the interval after of a huge second half for both sides.
The opening to the second period was somewhat scrappy, with the best moment seeing another very presentable chance arriving at the feet of Ward, but he again couldn’t convert.
A booming long throw from Arnason wasn’t cleared adequately, with the ball falling ten yards out to Ward, whose volley flew wide.
Aside from that, the Millers didn’t overly trouble the Norwich defence, with the visitors, roared on by a raucous travelling support, starting to feel better about proceedings.
They certainly were just before the hour when Pringle was dispossessed in midfield and the ball found its way to Hooper 25 yards out and his screaming half-volley flew past Martinez, who had no chance.
The goal was the cue to wild celebrations in the away end, while you could hear a proverbial pin drop in the three other sides of the ground.
A clearly distraught Pringle soon made way for Hammill and soon after only desperate defending from Broadfoot denied Sebastien Bassong a second as he was poised to head in Redmond’s centre.
At the other end, the Millers’ efforts became increasingly frantic, before they eventually carved open the Norwich defence with Hunt low cross latched onto by Frecklington, whose goalbound low shot was blocked by Ruddy before an almighty scramble ended in the ball being cleared.
Johnson’s cross-shot was tipped over by Martinez before a scarcely believable miss from Derbyshire, faced with an open goal from a few yards out, got the Millers off the hook after Bowery’s cross.
An acrobatic effort from Derbyshire flew wide before Bowery rescued a point in dramatic fashion for the hosts.
Rotherham United: Martinez; Hunt, Morgan, Broadfoot, Lafferty; Frecklington, Smallwood, Arnason, Pringle (Hammill 63); Ward (Bowery 69), Derbyshire. Substitutes unused: Collin, Wood, Green, Wilson, Clarke-Harris.
Norwich City: Ruddy; Martin, R Bennett, Bassong, Olsson; Dorrans, Howson, Johnson, Redmond (Jerome 77), Hoolahan (Hooper 33); Grabban. Substitutes unused: Rudd, Cuellar, E Bennett, O’Neil, Odjidja-Ofoe.
Referee: M Brown (East Yorkshire).