Rotherham put in an impressive display in their League One play-off semi-final first leg at Preston on Saturday and were only denied a vital win by missed chances and a once-in-a-lifetime goal from Joe Garner.
The 1-1 draw sets up an intriguing second leg on Thursday, where both sides will fancy their chances of progressing to Wembley.
Here’s five things we learned from the game.
Rotherham can handle the big stage
After the poor performance at Sheffield United, where the Millers turned up to arguably their biggest game of the season at the time with a huge billing and expectation and were rubbish, questions were asked whether they could hack it on the big stage. The incredible game at Wolves went some way to atoning for that Bramall Lane no-show, but the display at Preston on Saturday proved beyond doubt that the Millers know how to handle the big occasion. In a high-pressure environment, they were the better side for the majority of the game, were rarely threatened at the back and had the better chances to have won it. Nobody froze or had a bad game, this was a fine display and one that boss Steve Evans was right to be proud of.
Alex Revell can run forward with the ball
There has been times when it has seemed that Alex Revell has been the modern-day Richie Barker, albeit with a lot more mobility. It’s fair to say Revell’s best work is with his back to goal and he has provided a superb presence in attack all season, often getting battered from opposition defences. Yet, he showed a different facet to his game at Deepdale with his fine solo goal, which has gone without deserved praise owing to the magnifence of Joe Garner’s goal for Preston. The manner of his control from Ben Pringle’s ball was superb and nothing new, but the way he raced away from the defender, closed in on goal and then coolly finished was something that we would not always associate with the big man. After suffering confidence issues earlier in the season, which saw him shy away from shooting in such positions, it was great to see him tuck the ball away with such ease and his uncontrollable joy after it hit the back of net was enjoyed by everyone.
It could be a long night on Thursday
Although the Millers have home advantage in the second leg and could be favourites to progress, it is extremely unlikely that either side is going to win it by a landslide. Rotherham had the better of things at Deepdale and still could not get a win and the fact that three meetings with Simon Grayson’s men this season have all ended in draws suggests it is safe to assume that the New York clash will be a similarly tight affair with not much separating the two sides. With no away goals, extra-time and penalties could well be on the cards on Thursday. The Millers have had first-hand experience of penalty shootout despair in the play-off semi-finals and it is not an enjoyable one. It could be worth practising penalties in the next few days, but even then there may still be a cruel twist that leaves one player who has had a brilliant season as the new Andy Roscoe. Bring your fingernails, you might need them.
The depth of squad is the best ever
This is hardly a ground-breaking revelation, given it is the quality of the squad that has got Rotherham to where they are, but the players who came into the side on Saturday showed exactly what sort of options Steve Evans has at his disposal. With top scorer Kieran Agard pulling up lame the day before the game, Wes Thomas, who has not always been impressive, came in and provided a superb foil for Revell in attack. Rob Milsom made light of Richie Smallwood’s absence with a fine holdling display, while Michael O’Connor came on after Richard Brindley’s injury and did a more than competent job on the right of midfield. There was plenty left on the bench as Claude Davis, who has barely played in the final few weeks of the season, was called on after Lee Frecklington was injury and kept a dangerous Preston front line quiet, while striker Haris Vuckic almost snuck a last-gasp winner. Evans is good at directing attention to other club’s resources, but this is arguably the best squad Rotherham have ever had.
Steve Evans needs some new material
The Millers boss is probably one of the most quotable managers in the English game. He loves a comedic throwaway line, never minces his words and there is no finer name-dropper around. But his effort in yesterday’s post-match press gathering shows that he has exhausted all of his best lines. Asked about the quality of Garner’s goal, Evans riposte was to say: “If there’s a better goal in the play-offs then I’ll wake up a chicken”. Any ideas?