Freddie Ladapo scored an exceptional winner in the 97th minute to give 10-man Rotherham United an invaluable win at relegation rivals Sheffield Wednesday in a dramatic local derby.
Darren Moore took charge of the Owls for the first time since his shock move from Doncaster Rovers, and was thrown in at the deep end with a crunch derby clash against their fellow strugglers.
It looked for much of the night as if Rotherham would take the win in fairly comfortable circumstances after Michael Smith headed them into a first-half lead.
But the striker’s controversial red card for an alleged headbutt gave Wednesday hope, and they levelled in fortuitous circumstances eight minutes from time when a save deflected off defender Matt Olosunde and into his own goal.
But the drama was far from over, and a counter in the final minute of added time finished with Ladapo finding the bottom corner with a brilliant strike from distance to give Rotherham three huge points in their survival fight, as well as a first ever league double over their neighbours.
Story of the match
How quickly Moore, praised for his free-flowing style of play at Doncaster, would look to change a Sheffield Wednesday side that had been pragmatic under a succession of managers was an intriguing pre-match talking point, and in his three days in charge he had done enough work to take a team most used to a back three and mould them into his favoured 4-2-3-1 system.
The play in possession will take longer to perfect but there were encouraging signs as to his intentions, including in a dangerous opening which saw them twice come close to the opener from successive Barry Bannan corners. First Sam Hutchinson was denied from point-blank range by sharp Viktor Johansson reactions, then from the next delivery Callum Paterson aimed a firm header wide.
Moore needs no telling of some of the harsh realities of football and certainly wouldn't by the end of the night, but it was first displayed for him when Rotherham broke the deadlock with their first shot of the match. He could only have his own players to blame as the defence left Smith free in the middle of the box, the striker obliging with a well-guided head on Florian Jozefzoon’s cross to find the net for his side's first goal in more than 400 minutes of football.
Wednesday retained an uneasy control over the game despite that goal, slowly getting to grips with unfamiliarly long passages on the ball and going close twice more before the break, Bannan skying after good work from Liam Shaw and Paterson lashing wide following a great first touch to control Julian Borner’s long pass.
They might have been punished for missed opportunities a second time as Rotherham again came close, with Lewis Wing unlucky to see his fine effort hit the far post after turning Matt Penney. Goalkeeper Joe Wildsmith was also forced into action to push away Ryan Giles’ effort just before the interval.
Moore was the manager able to seemingly give his charges more impetus for the start of the second half, but their finishing continued to desert them. Paterson fired narrowly wide from almost 25 yards before wide men Adam Reach and Josh Windass combined for chances in excellent positions, Reach first striking wide from a pull back before returning the favour only for Windass to lift poorly over.
They were going to need some help heading into the final quarter of the match and they got it; firstly from the man who put them behind in the first half. Smith tangled with Borner on the floor but, on returning to their feet, the striker made enough of a nudge into the chest of the German defender for referee Darren Bond to rule his actions as a headbutt worthy of a straight red card.
Wednesday looked to press their advantage as Johnasson denied Paterson from point-blank range and Shaw missed the target when found free in the box, before more help came in the form this time of lady luck. Shaw’s pass found Penney in behind though a poor first touch allowed Johansson to come out and beat him to the ball; however, the save rebounded off defender Olosunde, and into the open net for an own goal.
With the numbers in their favour it was suddenly the hosts pushing for a winner. Yet again the stage was set for Paterson but he headed over from a Penney cross, while Rotherham continued to show guts in going for it at the other end with Ladapo lifting over the bar after Wildsmith failed to claim a free-kick.
The final chance to attack seemed to be Wednesday’s as they won a corner in the final minute, but Izzy Brown gave it away to spark a counter through Matt Crooks which, with time now in the red, Ladapo finished remarkably with a great run and stunning finish beyond the goalkeeper from outside the box.
Rotherham do it hard way
The importance of this win cannot be understated for Rotherham, and nor can the challenges they had to face to secure it.
They were up against it before a ball was kicked at Hillsborough with a very makeshift backline. Michael Ihiekwe’s suspension, along with injuries to Richard Wood and Clark Robertson, meant they had just one available centre-back, which dictated a change to an unfavoured four-at-the-back set-up.
Wes Harding shifted along from wing-back to the middle and the ever-versatile Ben Wiles filled in at left-back, and both put in commendable showings in front of excellent goalkeeper Johansson, who was able to bail his defence out when Sheffield Wednesday did find ways through.
Circumstances also went against them during the match and the second half specifically, with Smith’s dismissal harsh in the extreme. After that they had backs against the wall for a time, but even with a terribly unfortunate own goal they did not let their heads drop and continued to play positively.
Considering all that, and the fact they had lost each of their last five matches by a single goal in a depressingly unlucky run, Rotherham would have been forgiven for lacking the confidence and spirit to pull off the remarkable finish they did. But what transpired here is a perfect demonstration of the character that will see this team battle until the end in the Championship relegation scrap.
Moore time needed for new boss
When a club goes through managers at the kind of rate that Sheffield Wednesday have in recent times, supporters can be forgiven for lacking the enthusiasm that typically comes with a fresh appointment, but there was genuine hope when Moore was appointed on Monday.
But any expectation that one flick of a magic wand could solve the issues with this squad was proven optimistic in the extreme by the brutal manner of this defeat, which leaves them seven points adrift of safety and seemingly further from an escape than ever before.
There were some encouraging signs to come from this performance as Wednesday got to grip with controlling possession and created a decent body of chances, even before the red card. But they could hardly have been poorer in front of goal, Paterson being especially guilty, and were far from assured at the other end as well.
While Moore will find the positives, he knows that he has been appointed at a time of the season when performances mean nothing and results mean everything, particularly when you are adrift at the bottom and have now lost the last five.
He has made clear in his first few days on the job that he wants this team playing in his image, but a squad built for a very different style of play cannot be transformed overnight. With 13 matches left to save their Championship status in two packed months, there is no guarantee he will have enough time to turn it around.
Man of the match: Viktor Johansson (Rotherham)
Having been presented his chance in the first team by Jamal Blackman’s enforced absence through isolation, Johansson has made the number one shirt his own and been Rotherham’s star man in recent weeks.
Once again, the Swedish goalkeeper was on top form here, making several strong saves and commanding his box with confidence, and the goal he did concede was unfortunate in the extreme.