KIERAN Agard was the Rotherham United hero as his brace, including a last-gasp strike, earned his side a share of the spoils against Crawley Town, who led twice at the NYS.
Ex-Millers loanee Matt Tubbs came back to haunt his former club with the opening goal but the lead proved short-lived as Agard struck from the penalty spot to level
Josh Simpson put Crawley back in control until Agard nipped in at the far post to earn his side a point deep in stoppage time although the Millers had ‘keeper Adam Collin to thank for a triple save with the last action of the game.
Following their impressive 3-0 victory over Shrewsbury Town last weekend, the Millers made two changes to their starting line-up with Icelandic international Kari Arnason making a welcome return to the heart of the Rotherham rearguard following illness at the expense of Mark Bradley, who dropped to the bench following his makeshift role at Greenhous Meadow.
New loan signing Richard Smallwood was thrust immediately into the Millers engine room just days after putting pen-to-paper on a move from Middlesbrough as skipper Lee Frecklington was missing because of a suspected hamstring strain.
Former Crawley players Scott Shearer, Claude Davis and Wes Thomas were named amongst the home substitutes while Tubbs was a familiar face in the visitors’ line-up following his loan spell at the NYS earlier in the season.
The home side were quick out of the blocks and after a superb Ben Pringle cross caused indecision in the visitors’ backline, the ex-Derby playmaker swung a tantalising corner in the next phase of play which was met by the head of Arnason at the far post, but he was unable to steer the ball goalwards as it rolled narrowly wide of the target.
Moments later, Alex Revell fired a tame effort from the edge of the box which Paul Jones gathered at the second attempt before Billy Clarke had the visitors’ first sight of goal when he fired a skimming effort from distance which failed to trouble Adam Collin.
Minutes later, a fine flowing move involving Smallwood paved the way for Agard to advance menacingly towards the Crawley box before the Rotherham hot-shot was crowded out although Revell almost pounced on the loose ball as it ricocheted in his path.
Just before the quarter hour, Pringle floated a delightful cross which was only half-cleared into the path of Tom Hitchcock, whose goalbound effort was deflected by a retreating defender into the grateful arms of Jones.
The Millers were looking the most likely and they came within a whisker of the breakthrough when Smallwood’s arrowed pass found Joe Skarz, whose first-time ball released Agard, who got to the by-line before fizzing a cross across the goalmouth which agonisingly missed Revell before Smallwood was unable to divert the ball goalwards at the far post.
However, the visitors shell-shocked the home side by breaking the deadlock on 24 minutes thanks to Tubbs.
After Collin had to be well-stationed to clear a weak Arnason backpass, the Millers were still clearing their heads when the visitors’ launched another attack and after Nicky Adams broke the offside trap, he played a superb cross across the face of goal which Collin inavertedly diverted into the path of the on-rushing Tubbs, who made no mistake to scoop the ball into the heart of the home goal.
Moments later, Miles Addison became the first to see yellow when he caught Tubbs from behind on the halfway line before Collin’s punt upfield saw the Bournemouth loanee climb highest to knockdown into the path of Revell, whose bobbling effort was diverted to safety by Jones.
However, the Millers were given the perfect opportunity to get back on level terms just past the half hour when Crawley failed to clear the danger following a Pringle corner and the Millers schemer pounced on the loose ball and as he looked to unleash an effort towards goal, Joe Walsh halted him in his tracks and the referee had no hesitation in pointing to the spot.
From the resultant penalty, Agard kept his nerve to send Jones the wrong way to find the bottom corner of the goal.
The Millers were visibly lifted by the equaliser and after Crawley failed to deal with an Arnason long-throw, the ball fell invitingly for Smallwood on the edge of the box, who cleverly switched foot to work a yard of space before curling an effort which shaved the visitors’ upright.
With half-time approaching, Pringle swung a delightful inswinging free-kick which saw Arnason climb highest but his glancing header failed to trouble the visitors’ goal.
Half-time:- Rotherham United 1 Crawley Town 1
Following the restart, the visitors’ had the first sight of goal when Adams’ delivered a corner which Rotherham failed to deal with decisively with the ball looping high into the air and Collin’s weak punch fell for Mark Connolly, who controlled smartly before volleying narrowly wide of the home target from the edge of the box.
At the other end, Thomas had a half-chance to make an immediate impression following his half-time introduction as he ghosted in at the far post as a flick-on fell invitingly into his path but his header was bundled clear by well-stationed defenders.
Just shy of the hour mark, the Millers breathed a huge sigh of relief as Crawley missed a guilt-edged chance to regain the lead when Clarke superbly latched onto a throughball as the home defence was caught square but he fluffed his lines as he advanced on goal by firing a tame effort into the hands of Collin.
The home side were noticeably struggling to find their rhythm before Smallwood’s snap shot was deflected narrowly wide before Addison almost capitalised on defensive hesitation but his point-blank header blazed wide.
However, Crawley took a stranglehold on the proceedings by regaining the lead with 25 minutes remaining following a fine-flowing move.
There looked little danger on the right flank before Adams injected pace into the move and his pass into the feet of Tubbs, saw the frontman cleverly flick the ball into the path of Simpson, who kept his nerve to slide the ball home from close range giving Collin no chance.
The home side were fearing the worst and Pringle’s mazy run from the heart of midfield had the visitors’ backtracking before he unleashed a low effort which had Jones nervously scrambling across goal but the ball whistled narrowly wide of the upright.
With the game in the balance, Clarke pounced on a loose ball to poke an effort wide of the target before Kyle McFadzean saw yellow for kicking the ball away.
The visitors’ then came within a whisker of sealing the game when Mike Jones’s superb one-two with Simpson bisected the home rearguard and despite having just Collin to beat, Jones’ screwed the ball into the side netting when it looked easier to score.
Minutes later, Tubbs’ neat-flick took Arnason out of the game and Simpson’s marauding run ended with a rising effort which cleared the crossbar.
With time running out, sub Michael O’Connor got to the byline before drilling a low cross which Connolly diverted behind before Crawley had the same player to thank seconds later when Pringle’s cross looked destined to find Thomas at the far post until his late intervention.
However, Crawley hearts’ were broken deep in injury time when Haris Vuckic had Jones at full stretch with an instinctive drive from distance but Rotherham continued to press and from the resultant corner from Pringle, the visitors’ failed to clear and Addison played the ball back into the danger area and with Vuckic lerking, the ball fell invitingly for Agard at the far post to sweep the ball into the empty net to send the home fans into ecstasy.
In a see-saw encounter, there was further drama to come when Crawley swept upfield and Gary Alexander and Andy Drury were both denied by the feet of Collin and the ex-Carlisle stopper was quickly on his feet to deny Clarke with a superb reflex save to preserve a point and keep Rotherham in the play-off positions.
Full-time:- Rotherham United 2 Crawley Town 2
Teams:- Rotherham- Collin, Tavernier, Arnason, Skarz, Agard, Smallwood (O’Connor 72), Milsom, Pringle, Revell (Thomas 46), Hitchcock (Vuckic 53). Unused:- Shearer, Brindley, Davis, Bradley.
Crawley:- P Jones, Sadler, Connolly, McFadzean, Clarke, Drury, Simpson (Dicker 90), Walsh, Adams, Tubbs (Alexander 90), M Jones. Unused:- Essam, Torres, Proctor, Malins, Maddison.
Attendance:- 7579 (201).