IT will be all to play for at the New York Stadium on Thursday night as Rotherham United earned a battling draw at Deepdale following an enthralling encounter with Preston North End in the Play Off semi-final first leg.
The Millers made the perfect start when Alex Revell opened the scoring with a composed finish following a powerful run but Steve Evans’ men were pegged back by Joe Garner’s wonder strike just minutes into the second half.
Following the end of the regular season, the Millers made two changes to their starting line-up for the televised play-off clash with Preston North End.
Skipper Craig Morgan returned to the heart of the Millers’ rearguard at the expense of Jamaican international Claude Davis while young full-back Richard Brindley retained his place following a good showing at Swindon on the final day with James Tavernier reverting to a more attacking role on the right hand side of midfield.
Rob Milsom also kept his place in the Rotherham engine room while two-goal County Ground hero Wes Thomas was entrusted with leading the visitors’ line alongside Revell, who was rested last week, as hot-shot Kieran Agard was ruled out because of injury.
The home side were quick out of the blocks and they had the first sight of goal when Garner attempted to wriggle clear in the box before appearing to lose his footing under the challenge of Morgan before Kari Arnason crowded him out as he looked to get a shot away.
At the other end following a period of visitors’ pressure, Tavernier floated a delightful cross which saw Revell power a header which was straight down the throat of Declan Rudd, but any Millers’ joy would have been curtailed for offside.
Following a cautious opening by both teams, the game swung in a sixty second spell when Rotherham broke the deadlock following the breakdown of a home attack.
Paul Gallagher’s arrowed ball almost fell kindly for Garner, but Joe Skarz was well-stationed to snuff out the danger.
In the next phase of play, Preston’s attack came to nothing and Ben Pringle’s ball down the line saw Revell get the better of Jack King on the byline and the Rotherham targetman advanced menacingly towards the home box and with no retreating defender choosing to narrow the angle, the ex-Orient frontman kept his nerve to slide the ball past the onrushing Rudd into the heart of the goal.
The visitors were lifted by the strike and clever footwork by Tavernier left Gallagher in a daze before the Newcastle loanee tried his luck from distance but his drilled effort was blocked by Bailey Wright.
Just past the half-hour mark, Garner’s daisycutter from distance failed to trouble Collin before Tavernier’s powerful run paved the way for a shooting opportunity at the other end but his low drive was deflected behind for a corner.
Half-time:- Preston North End 0 Rotherham United 1
Buoyed by attacking their home end, the Lancastrians stunned the Millers just four minutes into second half when got back on level terms with their first foray of the half.
There looked little danger when Tom Clarke played a delicate ball over the top but Garner showed exquisite skill to chest the ball down before showing sublime technique to volley the ball from distance and the ball arrowed into the visitors’ goal giving Adam Collin no chance.
The Millers responded bravely to the setback and they came within a whisker of regaining the lead minutes later when Thomas showed fleet of foot on halfway to jink past a number of home challengers before playing a slide-rule pass into the path of Lee Frecklington, who got on the wrong side on his marker to advance on goal before a slightly heavy touch gave Rudd an opportunity to smother his goalbound effort.
Minutes later, sub Michael O’Connor delivered a tantalising centre which saw Garner head the ball dangerously over his own goal before Morgan rose highest from a Pringle centre moments later but his downward header into the danger area was cleared by the home defence.
The Millers were looking the most likely and a centre from the byline had the home defence at sixes and sevens and Thomas diverted the ball into the path of Milsom, who looked to guide the ball into the bottom corner from the edge of the box but the ball whistled narrowly past the upright.
At the other end, Gallagher blazed a free-kick over from distance after sub Davis bundled over one-time England forward Kevin Davies before Arnason’s skimming shot from long range stung the palms of Rudd minutes later.
With the game in the balance, Garner fired over over the bar before skipper Morgan led from the front to divert a dangerous Gallagher cross to safety in the latter stages.
In injury time, Rotherham came within a whisker of snatching victory when sub Haris Vuckic brought out an acrobatic save from Rudd following Arnason’s knockback.
Full-time:- Preston North End 1 Rotherham United 1
Teams:- Preston- Rudd, Laird, Clarke. Wright, Holmes (Humphrey 77), Gallagher, Garner, C Davies (K Davies 62), Welsh, King, Browne (Keane 62). Unused:- Stuckmann, Beavon, Buchanan, Wiseman.
Rotherham- Collin, Brindley (O’Connor 23), Skarz, Arnason, Frecklington (Davis 62), Revell, Milsom, Pringle, Morgan, Thomas (Vuckic 83), Tavernier. Unused:- Shearer, Walker, Rowe, Hitchcock.
Referee:- Iain Williamson
Attendance:- 17221 (1881)