If there was ever a sign that Rotherham were building something special during the 2000-01 season then their visit to Northampton was probably it.
The Millers, led by Ronnie Moore, had come into the third tier after winning automatic promotion the previous year and after a mixed start they were beginning to make waves.
Following the sale of Leo Fortune-West and the subsequent purchase of Alan Lee, Moore’s men had found their groove and had lost just one of their last nine games by the time their visit to Sixfields at the end of October 2000 came around.
They were already exceeding expectations, sitting fourth ahead of the game, but a tough afternoon was on the agenda as the Cobblers had also started well after they came up with the Millers the previous season.
Just how tough it would be must have come as something of a surprise but Moore’s men shook off some early adversity to put in one of the most memorable performances of the great man’s first reign.
During the previous season a theme had developed when Guy Branston was sent off at Hull – famously punching the referee’s door afterwards – and the Millers fought on in his absence to claim a credible 0-0 draw.
That theme had its second instalment on a wet and windy autumnal day at Northampton, but this time his team-mates went one better.
After Branston – wholehearted, passionate, committed but sometimes lacking common sense – managed to pick up two yellow cards in the opening 15 minutes, the Millers were left facing 75 minutes of numerical disadvantage.
But there was a special spirit in that particular dressing room, evidenced by the fact that almost 20 years on so many of them remain friends, and they were not ones to lie down in battle.
If there is one man to feel sorry for in this story, it’s Mark Robins. The diminutive striker had started his Miller career in brilliant fashion, scoring eight goals in his first 13 games, and he was forming a potent front-three attack with Lee and Paul Warne.
But he was the sacrificial lamb here, hauled off after Branston’s dismissal, to be replaced by Chris Beech as the Millers looked to reorganise.
They weathered a mini-storm but they soon found their feet and the crucial moment came on the half-hour mark.
The visitors attacked down the right and Lee, all arms and legs, forged into the box, causing chaos, and a loose ball fell to midfielder Stewart Talbot, who drilled into the bottom corner from 16 yards.
That’s when the real hard work started as the Millers put in a superb backs-to-the-wall performance as they battled to preserve their lead.
There were a few hairy moments, but the heroic 11 including Beech, put in 10 out of 10 performances to see out the win which kept out the impressive run going, taking it to six games unbeaten.
The confidence was in the camp was soaring and a brilliant November and early December saw that run stretch to 13 in all competitions, which put the Millers firmly in the promotion mix.
And after Christmas Moore’s men were able to sustain their brilliant form to cap a second successive promotion in memorable circumstances.
It was wins like this that made it possible.
:: Travelling to Sixfields should bring happy memories for current boss Warne as the year before this game he scored a late winner to give the Millers a 1-0 win. He fired in from the edge of the area in front of a packed away end, who celebrated accordingly.