IT felt like a coming of age moment for Rotherham United on Tuesday evening.
For the first time in 21 Championship away games in charge – stretching back to December, 2016 – Paul Warne witnessed his side secure a clean sheet and its psychological merit did not escape the Millers chief when he spoke after a precious 0-0 draw at Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium.
Rotherham neutered a Boro side who came into the game as league leaders and, after hinting at a positive away result at the likes of Elland Road, Villa Park and City Ground already this season, the Millers finally saw the job through against a side with firm promotion aspirations.
It was exquisitely timed ahead of the Millers’ crunch weekend ‘six-pointer’ at lowly rivals Preston – with Deepdale being the only other second-tier away venue where Warne has taken something from his time at the helm.
Should Warne’s side execute Tuesday’s game plan on a more regular basis on the road between now and May, then Championship survival will surely be in their grasp.
On his side being provided with a confidence-booster after six successive away league losses this season – and a rare defensive shut-out – Warne said: “I think it has. I am well aware of the league table and, sincerely, I think the lads have massive belief.
“I do feel they have been robbed a few times in games, such as (Nottingham) Forest.
“I was thinking if Boro scored in the 89th minute, it would be like all that again. But I thought we started with a purpose and started the game really well and the lads knew they had done well because at half-time, the home team were getting booed off.
“I am really proud. I asked them to play with a bit of courage and you have got to come here and quieten the crowd.”
On how highly the away result ranked in his time in the dug-out, Warne – who celebrated his milestone 100th game as manager on Tuesday – observed: “I think my favourite away performance was Portsmouth.
“But we limited a very good (Boro) team to very few chances and it is definitely up there.”
The Millers’ defensive solidity was all the more impressive, given that centre-back Clark Robertson was handed his full league debut for the club while loanee right-back Zac Vyner started for the first time in five weeks, with captain Richard Wood on the bench.
In truth, it was a night when strong contributions arrived across the board.
Warne added: “There were some outstanding performances. Smithy (Michael Smith) was probably my favourite and Robbo came in for his first game in a long while and was excellent.
“Unfortunately for him, he came in and had a little injury which got him out of the team. He has had to be patient behind Woody, who is my captain and general in organising.
“From the game on Saturday, I just thought we needed to freshen it up a little bit and Robbo has been a massive part of keeping a clean sheet.
“He should be really proud of his performance and, hopefully, he will play a lot more games in the future.”
The sentiments of Warne contrasted starkly with those of Boro counterpart Tony Pulis, who saw his side fail to score for a third successive home match with problems in the scoring department continuing to afflict their season.
Given the frustration at the end from home fans, some of whom jeered Boro’s efforts, it is a deep area of concern.
Pulis, who had the civility to commend the Millers’ on their ‘smashing’ display, said: “They (fans) pay their money. I was disappointed at the end of the game.
“They (Rotherham) came here and sat in behind the ball, and used their big striker well. But we have to break things down. When we get our opportunities and chances, we have to make sure we take them. That is what we did not do again.”