Richie Barker’s last gasp header secures Rotherham United an all-important victory against their arch-rivals Sheffield Wednesday.
This game came towards the end of the 2001/02 Division 1 season. It was Rotherham’s first year back in the 2nd tier since 1983.
The season started poorly for the Millers, as they did not win any of their opening ten league games. They were cut adrift at the bottom but a brilliant run from October onwards pushed them out of the relegation zone.
Sheffield Wednesday were also in the middle of a relegation battle. Ahead of this game at Hillsborough, both teams were on 37 points from their 34 games. Only goal difference kept Rotherham ahead of the Owls in 18th, with Wednesday down in 20th.
The other meeting between the two teams that season came in September at Milmoor. It was a close game as it ended 1-1 with Martin McIntosh and Ashley Westwood getting the goals.
Both teams were desperate for a win in this second meeting though. With 12 games left of the Division One season, they were both just six points above the relegation zone. A win here would do wonders for their hopes of remaining in the 2nd tier for another year.
Rotherham United Starting XI
Ronnie Moore made just one change from their 0-0 draw with Portsmouth last time out. Chris Swailes dropped out in place of Rob Scott, as top scorer Mark Robins continued to lead the line alongside Alan Lee.
Sheff Wed made four changes from their 2-1 victory over Watford in their last game. Paul Heald, Danny Maddix, Tony Crane and David Jonson dropped out for Kevin Pressman, Alan Quinn, Tommy Johnson and Gerald Sibon.
It was understandable given what was at stake that there was a tentative start to the game. Both Rotherham and Sheff Wed were keen not to make any mistakes that could prove costly.
The only real chance of the half came through a Shefki Kuqi header via a free-kick from the right-wing. It was well held by Mike Pollitt as we headed into the break with the game goalless.
The second-half did kick into a different gear, however. We had to wait just five minutes after the break for the first goal to come.
Chris Sedgwick turned his defender inside out on the right flank before he sent a lofted ball into the area. It dropped perfectly for Lee who evaded his man and headed into the bottom corner to make it 1-0.
Sheff Wed kept going though and fought their way back into the game. They were rewarded with an equaliser with 20 minutes left.
Rotherham coach Matt Hamshaw played for the Owls that day and he sent in a testing corner. Kuqi met it and scored with a bullet header to set up a tense end to the game.
There was nothing separating the sides and they looked certain to share the points until the game was turned on its head in the last minute.
As we were heading into added-time, Rotherham earned a free-kick just past the half-way line and a hopeful ball was sent into the penalty area towards the back post. Barker peeled off from his marker and headed it away from Pressman into the bottom corner to surely seize all three points for the Millers.
Barker, a former Wednesday youth player, was ambushed by his teammates to celebrate as he set off jubilant scenes in the away end.
Moments later the referee blew the final whistle confirming Rotherham’s monumental victory against their rivals.
— The Millers scrapbook. (@millers1971AK) February 23, 2018
This victory moved the Millers to the 40 point mark, eight points above Walsall in the final relegation spot.
Moore’s side won their next game against Gillingham 3-2 but they struggled for the rest of the campaign. Rotherham failed to win any of their last 10 league games, which included five draws.
But thankfully Rotherham still did enough to stay up. They finished 21st, level on 49 points with Crewe Alexandra but with a superior goal difference.
So, in the end, it was Crewe, Barnsley and Stockport Town who were relegated. Sheff Wed finished a point and a place above Rotherham in 20th.
It was a phenomenal achievement for Moore and his team to avoid the drop. They were huge favourites to go down going into the season, but they surprised many by staying up.
As we now know, that team continued to amaze as they stayed in Division One for four seasons in total. Given what they were competing against, they had no right to stay up that long. These years under Moore were some of the best in the club’s history and this win over Sheffield Wednesday was certainly one of his most important victories as boss.