Wing and a prayer for Rotherham United in battle to beat drop

WITH half an hour to go on Saturday, Rotherham United’s hopes of taking their fight against relegation to another day were slender. On a wing and a prayer, you might say.

Lifeline: Lewis Wing scores the equaliser from a free-kick. Picture: Simon Hulme
Lifeline: Lewis Wing scores the equaliser from a free-kick. Picture: Simon Hulme

The Millers were losing and relegation rivals Derby County were winning at Swansea City. League One was calling and drowning out Paul Warne’s voice on the touchline however much he shouted. His side’s last two games looked like being rendered insignificant.

Then, as things tend to do in this wonderfully capricious Championship, magic – although not necessarily if you are a Derby fan – spontaneously occurs.

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Out of nowhere, Swansea scored twice. Roars were audible on both sides of the Tinsley Viaduct if you listened hard enough.

Close: Rotherham's Chiedozie Ogbene fires a shot wide. Picture: Simon Hulme

Another major development was yet to come and Rotherham’s fate was back in their own hands.

Blackburn captain Darragh Lenihan was penalised for a foul on Millers counterpart Richard Wood on the edge of the area.

Tony Mowbray labelled the decision as soft. After seeing his side come out on the wrong side of some colossal calls of late, Warne would have had a wry smile.

Someone who Warne thinks the world of – a ‘great kid’ as he puts it in Lewis Wing – then entered the conversation with just four minutes left of normal time.

Wing’s parent club are Middlesbrough, but it is red and white of Rotherham which is stirring his soul at the minute.

Warne recently said that Wing was the first to text him to provide a message of hope after one rival result in a frenzied relegation battle went the Millers’ way.

Here, he did his talking on the pitch with the striking goal-scoring prowess which he has shown in his locker on Teesside coming to the fore with a low arching free-kick out of the sweet spot.

No less important was a super stoppage-time save from Jamal Blackman to deny Adam Armstrong after United were split by substitute Harvey Elliott’s pass.

Warne labelled it as a potential ‘turning point’ in the club’s survival battle and said that the moment will be something he will look back at if his side stay up.

Plenty is likely to happen before then. His other assertion that Rotherham would have struggled to get over things if they had lost probably had merit as well.

Fortunately, for them, they did not. Whisper it gently, but a couple of things went right for Rotherham for once after a brutal five-match losing run. Only the stone-hearted would have denied them this.

On Wing’s glorious intervention, Warne said: “Rich (Barker – assistant) was saying: ‘We are great at these free-kicks’ and laughing because we watch the lads do them before we start training and I am not saying they have put the windows in, but luckily there is a net there. Then Hammy (Matt Hamshaw) said (Wing) he has scored loads of these for Boro.’

“You then have the impossible decision of knowing whether to go for the win or shut up shop and be happy with the point and, to be honest, after 90 minutes I was happy with the point because if we were to lose, it I don’t think we could have picked them up because it is a hammer blow.”

All roads now lead to Luton tomorrow. Should Rotherham win, they will move out of the bottom three on goal difference. But whatever happens, they will go into their final game of the season at Cardiff with a chance of survival and many Millers fans may just have taken that in September.

In their last campaign at this level, they were relegated after defeat in their penultimate match of 2018-19 at West Brom in a year when they finished on 40 points.

That is their total with two games left. Given Saturday’s late events, this draw felt like a win.

Wes Harding, one of several substitutes who impressed, said: “I am confident. We go into the next two games with our tails up. The aim is three points in both.

“As Wingy was lining it up, I thought: ‘This is going in.’ I know his ability in those situations.”

Jaded was probably the word to describe the Millers for a fair portion of this game. That and a lack of quality with the polish and poise coming from Rovers.

Blackburn’s opener from Adam Armstrong, who followed up his cruel ‘97th-minute’ winner at Ewood Park to register his 26th strike of the season, may have owed plenty to Angus MacDonald’s awful error from Amari’i Bell’s hack forward, but there was no doubting the merit of it.

Rotherham looked flat and produced little. A header which flew wide from Chiedozie Ogbene was their most threatening first-half moment. At the other end, Blackman made a fine save to thwart Armstrong and Sam Gallagher nodded over.

Blackman made another smart save early in the second half to keep out Bradley Johnson’s header, and the impressive Joe Rothwell was a whisker away .

Crucially, the Millers hung in there and started to display some urgency and belated assertion with Ogbene firing just wide before Wing’s gem of a strike.

George Hirst went close to a winner, as Armstrong and Ben Brereton did for Rovers. Rotherham live to fight another day and deserve that, at the very least.

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