Rookie Ben Wiles says Rotherham United are determined to prove the critics wrong and win their battle to stay in the Championship.
Before a ball was even kicked the Millers were tipped by many pundits to make a swift return to League One this season.
While manager Paul Warne has worked tirelessly with a small budget to keep the Millers competitive, they still find themselves in the Championship relegation zone.
But a six-match unbeaten run, with Saturday’s win over Blackburn Rovers ending a run of five consecutive draws, reflects the resilience and fighting spirit within the South Yorkshire club.
The 19-year-old midfielder Wiles, a second-half substitute against Rovers, is adamant Rotherham are desperate to silence the naysayers.
“When we hear people telling us we are going down it just drives us – gives us energy – it’s all mental how you cope with that,” said Rotherham-born Wiles, a graduate of the Millers’ Academy.
“As a club and team we are here to show people we are not going down. We are a good team.
“We strip back to basics and we do it well. I think we have a team ethic here, that’s what’s going to keep us up.
“We have got such a good bunch of lads. We motivate each other every day, the confidence and belief we have in our own ability – and team – I think is going to drive us to keep us up this season.”
This self-belief was evident after just 94 seconds at the AESSEAL New York Stadium withWill Vaulks tossing in a long throw, and Semi Ajayi scoring with a simple header.
Set-pieces caused Blackburn problems and from another long throw from Vaulks the ball eventually came back to the Millers captain, but he dragged his shot wide of David Raya’s goal.
Blackburn grabbed an equaliser just after half-time when Charlie Mulgrew – who moments earlier had seen his corner hit a post but somehow evade everyone as it rolled across goal – saw his free-kick cause chaos in Rotherham’s defence and Amari’i Bell fired in from close range.
Parity lasted six minutes before teenager Wiles powered forward with the ball and Millers substitute Ryan Williams poked home following Michael Smith’s far-post header.
Bradley Dack twice went close to a second equaliser, but both times failed to test Marek Rodak before the Millers made it 3-1.
Again it was the Vaulks-Ajayi combination that paid off. Wiles returned the ball to Vaulks from his long throw and his cross was perfect for Nigerian international Ajayi to leap highest and bullet his header into the top corner.
It was the first time Rotherham had scored three goals in a Championship game since beating Wigan on Boxing Day, 2016.
Michael Ihiekwe’s foul on Danny Graham – after Dack’s effort hit a post – gifted Rovers a penalty in stoppage-time, which Mulgrew converted to cause a few nervous moments for the home fans and Warne.
“As I said to the lads afterwards, when in 15 years’ time you look at Sky Sports News and see that ex-Rotherham manager Paul Warne has died, remember this game and know you played a part in my early death,” said Warne.
Reading’s late winner at Ipswich Town prevented the Millers from climbing out of the bottom three, but this victory has dragged both Millwall and Wigan – four teams are separated by three points – into the scrap to avoid the third relegation spot.
“We’ve played better,” was Warne’s verdict. “We’re unbeaten in six games, which is impressive for us, but we were better in the previous five.”
Those five draws – at Millwall, Hull City and Reading, plus home stalemates against Wigan and Sheffield Wednesday – were scant reward for some impressive Rotherham performances.
Wiles said: “In previous weeks we have been playing very good football, but coming out with unlucky results.
“This week wasn’t so good performance-wise, but it’s the work-rate and desire from the lads which gets us through it. That’s what drove us to the win.
“The gaffer brought me on because I have ‘legs’, and he wanted me to press the midfielders and defenders. They were coming too deep on to us and there was no-one pressing.
“He wanted a bit of energy. I am a young lad and will keep running around. That’s why I think I contributed.
“Picking up wins at this stage of the season is vital for us, and that’s what we are here to do, to try and stay up. We are going to give it our all every week.”
Rotherham’s survival hopes remain firmly in their own hands with 11 games remaining.
But they face a tough trip to Bramall Lane on Saturday to face South Yorkshire rivals Sheffield United.
“We’re not playing a very good, in-form team next week,” joked Warne. “Please put ‘sarcasm’ in brackets if you’re writing that.
“We look forward to the Sheffield United game. We have to take every game as it comes. I know that sounds cheesy, but we do.”
Rotherham United: Rodak, Jones, Ihiekwe, Robertson, Mattock, Ajayi, Taylor (Crooks 79), Vaulks, Towell (Wiles 54), Forde (Williams 45), Smith. United substitutes: Price, Wood, Tayes, Newell.
Blackburn Rovers: Raya, Nyambe, Rodwell, Mulgrew, Bell, Smallwood (Rothwell 45), Travis, Bennett (Reed 90), Dack, Armstrong (Nuttall 79), Graham. Unused substitutes: Leutwiler, Brereton, Evans, Conway.
Referee: J Brooks (Leics).