SUPER-sub Nicky Adams was the Rotherham United hero as his late strike extended their unbeaten run to 12 games following a hard-fought draw with play-off rivals Walsall.
Following their professional victory over Oldham Athletic in midweek, the Millers made two changes to their starting line-up with Mark Bradley failing to shrug off a knock sustained at Boundary Park while Newcastle loanee James Tavernier was ruled out following a leg injury.
Richard Brindley was promoted from the bench to fill the right-back slot while Bournemouth striker Wes Thomas returned to partner Alex Revell upfront with top-scorer Kieran Agard reverting back to his regular position on the right hand side of midfield.
Following a steady opening, the Millers had the first sight of goal when Joe Skarz’s floated ball was flicked on by Revell into the path of Thomas, who appeared to be bundled over by James Chambers in the box but the referee waved away faint home appeals for a spot-kick.
Moments later, Lee Frecklington drove hard from halfway leaving Romaine Sawyers in his wake before releasing Ben Pringle, who fired a first-time cross which was met by the head of Revell, but his clever header across goal narrowly evaded the attentions of Agard.
However, Walsall stunned the home faithful by breaking the deadlock on 19 minutes with their first attack of note.
After Frecklington was penalised on halfway, the Saddlers took a quick free-kick and with the home side backtracking, Craig Westcarr’s threaded ball saw Milan Lalkovic shrug off the attentions of Brindley, who seemingly played the forward onside, and he calmly struck an effort which gave Adam Collin no chance as it nestled in the home net.
The home side’s frustration was summed up minutes later when Richard Smallwood became the first to see yellow when he tripped Febian Brandy in full flow, with the visitors’ forward requiring lengthy treatment.
Just shy of the half hour mark, Andy Taylor advanced with menace before skimming a low effort which was comfortably gathered by Collin before Pringle floated a delicate free-kick which was met by the head of Kari Arnason at the other end, but his goalbound header was smothered to safety by a retreating defender.
Moments later, Pringle teased and tormented Ben Purkiss on the edge of the box as his drilled cross was blocked in the path of the on-rushing Frecklington, who fired over the bar before Saddlers skipper Andy Butler had to be on-hand to prevent Revell latching onto an inviting Pringle corner in the home side’s next attack.
Half-time:- Rotherham United 0 Walsall 1
Following the restart, Purkiss became the latest to see yellow for kicking the ball away following a free-kick award and the home side almost made them pay to the full when Pringle’s tantalising delivery saw Arnason ghost in unmarked but he couldn’t control his header despite having the goal at his mercy.
The home side were starting to pen the visitors’ back, who were intent on hitting the Millers on the break and after fine interplay by the home side, Agard had an effort ricochet in the path of Frecklington, who failed to trouble ex-Millers loanee Richard O’Donnell as he curled an effort harmlessly over the bar.
In a rare foray by the Saddlers, Westcarr’s slide-rule pass saw Sawyers beat the offside trap but from an acute angle, he dragged his shot across the face of goal.
At the other end, Arnason’s long-throw was flicked on by a retreating defender giving sub Haris Vuckic a sight of goal at the far post but Taylor put his body on the line to block his effort before Frecklington volleyed over from the edge of the box after the visitors’ only half-cleared Pringle’s resulting corner.
The Millers’ had a let off when Westcarr’s floated ball over the top saw Sawyers brake clear and although Collin initially hesitated, the ex-Carlisle stopper stood up tall to block his goalbound effort to keep Rotherham in the game.
The hosts were then given a helping hand moments later when Pringle’s run was abruptly halted by Purkiss, and the referee showed the Saddlers full-back a second yellow card, reducing the visitors to ten men for the latter stages of the game.
From the resultant free-kick, sub Michael O’Connor stung the palms of O’Donnell with a testing effort as the Millers looked to make their numerical advantage count.
The home side were sniffing blood and Pringle’s tame cross was latched upon by Revell, who turned smartly before firing a snap effort which sub Paul Downing deflected behind.
With time running out, Arnason launched a long throw into the danger area and under pressure from Craig Morgan, O’Donnell could only punch into the path of sub Adams, whose tame header was guided behind by the visiting defenders.
However, the home side made their pressure tell when they equalised with just one minute of normal time on the clock.
Following a period of home pressure, Pringle’s ball was not dealt with decisively by the visiting rearguard and an Agard flick-on gave Adams, an opportunity to strike and the ex-Crawley winger endeared himself to the home faithful when his fierce strike struck the underside of the bar before nestling in the visitors net.
With four minutes of injury-time signalled, Revell’s neat flick gave Frecklington a chance to strike goalwards from the edge of the box but the midfield maestro failed to repeat his Stevenage heroics as his low effort was comfortably gathered by O’Donnell as the visitors hung on to claim a share of the spoils.
Full-time:- Rotherham United 1 Walsall 1
Teams:- Rotherham- Collin, Brindley (Adams 77), Arnason, Morgan, Skarz, Agard, Smallwood (O’Connor 67), Frecklington, Pringle, Revell, Thomas (Vuckic 54). Unused:- Shearer, Milsom, Addison, Hitchcock.
Walsall- O’Donnell, Purkiss, Taylor, Butler, A Chambers, Mantom, Lalkovic (Downing 78), Westcarr (Ngoo 88), J Chambers, Sawyers, Brandy. Unused:- Roberts, Featherstone, Baxendale, Hewitt, McQuilken.
Referee:- Andy Woolmer