There are some games that teams just seem destined to win.
No matter what the form book says or how the match pans out, if it’s written in the stars then there’s no changing it.
And, luckily for Rotherham, fate determined that they would beat the mighty Leeds United in their first league meeting in over 20 years when they visited Millmoor in 2004/05, though how they did remains something of a mystery.
After all the Millers had no right to be beating their illustrious rivals.
Although in the same league, Ronnie Moore’s men were in dire straits having endured a shocking start to the campaign and the end of an epic journey for the club was nigh.
Moore had masterminded a miraculous rise at Millmoor, lifting the club from the depths of the bottom tier to within a few wins short of the Championship play-offs – all on a shoestring budget and against the odds.
But the club was on their way back down from their 2002/03 peak and everyone could see what was on the horizon.
The side that had performed so admirably for three years in the second tier had been broken up, along with the fabled team spirit which went with it, and it showed in the results on the pitch as 20 games into the season Moore’s men were still waiting for their first win.
But the footballing gods are always keen on a Roy of the Rovers type story and a former Champions League semi-finalist coming to a club who had yet to win for a televised game
was just too good to turn down.
Admittedly Leeds, who played in the last four of the European Cup only three years previously, were fresh from relegation from the Premier League and a far cry from the side that had gone on that adventure.
Boss Kevin Blackwell had a rebuilding job on his hands, but his team still arrived at Millmoor as huge favourites.
And the odds on Moore’s men breaking their duck would have drifted out even further after the lightning fast start made by Leeds as they hit the woodwork four times inside the opening 20 minutes, with Clarke Carlisle denied on three of those occasions.
Mike Pollitt was also called upon to make several fine saves as the Millers miraculously got to half-time on level terms.
The opening exchanges of the second period did not offer much respite for the hosts, but when former England striker Michael Ricketts kicked the air with the goal gaping, maybe, just maybe, it was going to be Rotherham’s night.
With time ticking away it looked as if they could sneak a point from a goalless draw until they earned a free-kick on the right in the 77th minute.
Paul McLaren whipped it in to the far post and when Leeds failed to clear Shaun Barker back-heeled the ball into the six-yard box where Martin McIntosh was perfectly placed to ram it home.
The size of the potential heist was not lost on the Millers players.
“We seemed to have all the luck we had been missing in one night,” defender Robbie Stockdale said in best-selling 2013 book Impossible Dream: The Ronnie Moore Years.
“When Martin McIntosh scored I turned round to Chris Swailes, who I got on really well with, and he just said, ‘How the f**k are we winning this?’.
“It was just unbelievable and we started laughing. There was a massive weight off our shoulders and even though there was 10 minutes to go or something we just knew that we were going to win.
“Even the Leeds boys saw us laughing and sort of said, ‘Yeah, we know what you’re on about’. It was a strange old game.”
|Martin McIntosh was the hero for the Millers with a goal from a set-play|
Leeds were unable to reproduce their creativity in the final 15 minutes and the Millers hung on to cap what was another great night at Millmoor.
The season had been so grim up until that point, but this was a fleeting throwback to what they achieved on a fairly regular basis just a few years previously, adding another big club to the list of handsome scalps.
Having gone 20 games without a league win it was perhaps no surprise that when their first one did come it was in a match where they were thoroughly outplayed and called in a large amount of luck to achieve.
“It was one of my easier ones but I enjoyed it a lot,” McIntosh said of goal. “As long as it is 0-0 you are always going to have a chance.
“Maybe when they hit the bar so many times and didn’t score we started to think it was going to be our night and that proved to be the case, but it was a freak game and one that everyone would say we never deserved to win.
“I have never played in a game so one-sided, it was incredible, we were really up against it.
“It seemed like we only had one or two chances and I remember Kevin Blackwell being absolutely shell-shocked after the game and quite rightly.
“Results like that shouldn’t have been happening, but we’d often beaten big clubs.
“I don’t think any team relished coming to us at all, even that season. It was a huge game for everyone, we hadn’t won in so long and we hoped that would kick-start things but it didn’t really get it going unfortunately.”
As Leeds fans will probably testify, Blackwell is perhaps not the easiest manager in the game to feel sympathy for, but even the most cold-hearted person will have been able to identify with his plight after this match.
|Kevin Blackwell wanted to report a mugging after losing at Millmoor|
His side dominated for 80 minutes, hit the woodwork four times and missed a host of other chances.
Then the bottom-of-the-league side, without a win all season, go up the other end and score a scruffy winner from a set-play.
Understandably the Leeds boss said it how he saw it after the game.
“Can you believe it? We should have had it done and dusted inside the first 10 minutes,” he claimed in his post-match press conference.
“We dominated from start to finish and if that had been in the real world then Rotherham would have been reported for mugging.
“But fair play to Rotherham. They came at us in the second half, and we created our own problems.
“How frustrating is it to be a manager? This is a big blow on the chin for me, but I’ve got to take it.”
Blackwell also had some words for Moore after the game after taking exception to the Millers manager’s continual pre-match comparison of the two clubs’ budgets.
“That was funny,” Moore said. “Blackwell came in afterwards and said, ‘I wish you’d stop f**king telling everyone how much money I am spending!’.
“He threw a right paddy, I just said to him, ‘What do you want me to say?’. But that’s what we were always up against, so although we weren’t having the best time of it, to beat Leeds was fantastic and another great night for us.”
Ultimately that win proved a flash in the pan as the Millers sunk without trace and Moore left the club just eight weeks later, with relegation back to League One being confirmed in April of that season.
But it was fitting that their one moment in the sun came against a side with such an illustrious history and standing and most people would not have begrudged them one last hurrah.
Well, apart from a few thousand Leeds fans in the Railway End who saw their side hit the woodwork four times.