Rotherham United will be playing Sky Bet League One football, next season, after a rollercoaster of emotions on an eventful final day, which saw Marlon Pack’s late equaliser for the Bluebirds, dash any hopes of Championship survival.
Hopes were boosted when Lewis Wing’s second goal in Millers colours – with a fantastic strike – saw Paul Warne’s side out of the relegation places, for large spells, and despite a noble performance and a host of chances to put Cardiff to bed, their efforts proved ultimately proved in vain, when Pack equalised with two minutes to go.
The Millers went into the crucial South Wales clash with their survival destiny out of their hands, following their midweek goalless draw with Luton Town, and it eventually came back to haunt them.
With only a victory giving them a chance of safety, Warne decided on a bolder attacking strategy at the Cardiff City Stadium with Dutch winger Florian Jozefzoon asked to play his part in plotting the downfall of his parent club, Derby, who started the day, two points ahead of the Millers, but with an inferior goal difference.
Warne, who was celebrating his 48th birthday, was also able to call on the services of Angus MacDonald, as part of a back three, following a short spell on the sidelines.
The Millers supremo will have been asking his players for a fast start, to put the pressure immediately back on Derby, and they duly obliged by making the perfect start, in opening the scoring, with a wonder goal – in their first real foray of note.
Jozefzoon made the hard yards by striding purposely up the right flank and following an exchange of passes with Crooks, he played the ball back to Wes Harding, who curled a cross to the far post, and Perry Ng could only head the ball across goal, and Lewis Wing opened up his body, before executing a superb volley, with his favoured right foot, from outside the box, and the ball beat the outstretched hand of Dillon Phillips to find the far corner of the goal, in emphatic style.
The Millers were lifted by the strike and barring a Harry Wilson free-kick which cleared the visitors’ goal, Warne’s side continued to look dangerous, in the attacking areas, and Phillips had to race from his line to snuff out the danger with Jozefzoon lurking before Wing failed to repeat his earlier heroics, when he blazed over from distance.
In a matter of minutes, Crooks failed to get a clean strike away under pressure from Joe Ralls, but he did so, in the Millers next attack, when he fired a goalbound effort which was deflected behind by Aden Flint.
Warne’s side were going for the jugular, and from the resultant corner, Ryan Giles swung a delicious centre into the danger area and Richard Wood, in typical bulldozing fashion, got the better of Curtis Nelson in the aerial duel, but the Millers skipper could not control his close-range header, and it agonisingly flew just wide of the target.
The Millers were producing some of the best football of the campaign, on the biggest stage of all, and they missed a chance to take a firm grip on the encounter, when Crooks threaded a ball into the channel and Michael Smith returned the favour, to pick out the Millers midfielder on the run, but Crooks failed to make the most of the opening, when he screwed a shot wide with the Cardiff goal in his sights.
Warne’s side were well on top of affairs, but they were left to rue not building on their early advantage when firstly Harding punted a free-kick forward which Phillips failed to deal with decisively and Angus MacDonald latched onto the loose ball to poke the ball goalwards, but Phillips produced a superb, reflex save to keep the ball out, before Smith got the better of Ciaron Brown in a foot race, before drilling a low effort which beat Phillips, but grazed the outside of the post.
The Millers were giving their all for the cause, but Michael Ihiekwe’s over-exuberance was penalised with a yellow-card following a late challenge on Ng before Phillips, who had a busy first period, showed good hands to diffuse Ryan Giles’ impressive run and cross.
Half-time: Cardiff City 0 Rotherham United 1
Warne’s side began the second half, out of the relegation places, with the Owls narrowly winning at Pride Park, but the game was around ten minutes behind that in South Wales.
The Bluebirds started the second 45 more brightly, and Leandro Bacuna had a snap shot blocked en-route to goal by Angus MacDonald before ex-Millers loanee Kieffer Moore blazed over from a promising position.
In a whirlwind sixty seconds, Rotherham failed to make the most of an attack with Smith crowded out before Cardiff turned defence into attack in the blink of an eye as Harry Wilson led the cavalry charge but with Angus MacDonald out of the game, due to a slip, Wood produced a superb block to deny Moore, as the Welsh international took aim, from just inside the box.
The Millers were aiming for the comfort of a second goal, and it almost came when Wing hung up a centre and Smith gave Phillips the eyes, by looking across goal, but firing towards the near post, but the Cardiff stopper reacted well, by diverting the ball to safety with his legs.
With news that Derby had levelled matters, Warne’s side had a further scare when Ng flashed a low shot narrowly wide before sub Jamie Lindsay made an immediate impression, by planting a ball over the Cardiff rearguard, but Crooks could only hoick his effort over the home bar.
Millers’ hopes of safety took a cruel twist, hundreds of miles away, with Derby taking the lead against Sheffield Wednesday but Warne’s side were guarding their slender lead, with all they could muster.
Wiles was harshly shown a yellow-card for a challenge on Jonathan Williams before Rotherham were boosted by the news that Wednesday had equalised at Pride Park.
With nerves on the edge, the Millers almost gave themselves a much-needed cushion when Crooks showed his marker a clean pair of heels to get on the wrong side of the Cardiff rearguard before calmly picking the right pass, and find Wing, who looked certain to make it two, but for once, the Middlesbrough loanee fluffed his lines when he screwed his shot well wide of the target.
With Wednesday notching a fifth goal in Derbyshire, Wing almost made immediate amends for his earlier miss, when he picked up the pieces following the breakdown of a Rotherham free-kick, to caress a shot, which left Phillips motionless, as it whistled just inches wide of the upright.
The Millers were putting their bodies on the line with Wood and MacDonald at the heart of it, but Rotherham hearts were broken when Cardiff equalised with just two minutes on the clock.
There looked little danger when Ralls put a hopeful ball into the box but Rotherham were unable to clear their lines and the ball fell invitingly for Pack, who kept his nerve, to pick his spot, and stroke the ball past a motionless Jamal Blackman.
The Millers were now behind the eight ball, and despite Freddie Ladapo and Chiedozie Ogbene being thrown on in a desperate attempt for a winner, Rotherham were guilty of giving away a series of free-kicks, and the time ran out on their chances of preserving their Championship standing.
Full-time: Cardiff City 1 Rotherham United 1
Teams: Cardiff- Phillips, Ng, Flint, Pack, Nelson, Brown, Bacuna (Williams 59), Ralls, Wilson (Ojo 77) , Colwill (Harris 46), Moore (Murphy 59, Samba 90). Unused- Smithies, Bowen, Evans, Tomlin.
Rotherham- Blackman, Ihiekwe (Ladapo 90), A MacDonald, Wood, Harding, Jozefzoon (Lindsay 62), Wiles (Mattock 86), Wing (Ogbene 90), Giles, Crooks, Smith. Unused- Johansson, Olosunde, S MacDonald, Barlaser, Sadlier.
Referee- G Scott