BRINGS DESPAIR FOR CANARIES
Bowery boosts survival hopes
SUPER sub Jordan Bowery came to Rotherham’s rescue with a last-gasp goal that sparked celebrations at both ends of the Championship.
The 23-year-old’s 87th-minute header – combined with Derby’s late equaliser at Millwall – kept the Millers a point above the drop zone and means one victory from their final two matches will secure another season of Championship football.
And with third-placed Middlesbrough losing 4-3 at Fulham, Norwich’s failure to hold on to Gary Hooper’s wonder-strike saw Watford clinch promotion to the Premier League with a game to spare.
Rotherham manager Steve Evans hailed his “fantastic professionals”, not just for their refusal to buckle but also their spirited response to losing three points on the eve of the match.
But for Canaries boss Alex Neil, whose side played the final hour with ten men after Lewis Grabban’s crazy punch on Craig Morgan and will be condemned to the play-offs if Bournemouth beat Bolton tomorrow, there was only a deep sense of frustration.
“I’m extremely disappointed,” said the Scot. “To have played so well away from home with ten men and then concede late on – it’s hard to take.
“To be going into the last two games with a chance of automatic is a great achievement considering where we were in January. But the fact we gave ourselves that chance by catching Middlesbrough up and then didn’t take it at the death – I still look at it as a missed opportunity. But that just makes me hungrier to do well in the play-offs.”
Neil added that he was “pleased with all his players – well, the ones on the pitch” and there can be no doubt that Grabban’s moment of madness changed the game.
The ex-Bournemouth man was grappling with Morgan when, out of the blue, he aimed a limp punch at the Rotherham defender’s ribs. Most of the ground didn’t even see it but referee Mark Brown did and – to stunned silence – whipped out a red card.
Slick, fast and totally dominant with 11 men, Norwich lost all momentum and the Millers should have capitalised when Danny Ward struck wide with the goal at his mercy.
When Ward then volleyed wide and Frecklington shot straight at Ruddy, you sensed a stinger coming and it was duly provided by Canaries sub Hooper who collected a pass from Nathan Redmond before lashing an unstoppable 25-yard half-volley beyond Emi Martinez.
“I’ve watched that young man at Celtic Park and I’ve been on my feet when he’s scored goals like that,” said Evans, a huge Bhoys fan. “When Joe Garner scored against us in the play-offs for Preston last year, I said if anyone scored a better goal then I’d wake up a chicken. Well tomorrow I’ll wake up a chicken because that was a sensational strike.”
Yet the Millers dug in and, but for a jaw-dropping miss by Matt Derbyshire who screwed wide from two yards, Evans’ men would have got their reward far sooner.
Instead, they waited until the death, sub Adam Hammill beating Russell Martin and slinging in a leftwing cross that Bowery powered beyond a helpless John Ruddy.
Jubilant Millers fans had barely retaken their seats when news of Derby’s leveller at third-bottom Millwall had them cheering anew - and it wasn’t just the supporters.
“There’ll be managers all over the country saying they didn’t pay attention to other results,” said Evans. “And their noses will grow as far as the microphone. We knew what was going on.”
And Evans says the Football League’s decision to deduct three points for fielding an ineligible player served only to fuel his side.
“It’s quite obvious that certain people don’t want us in this league,” he added. “And it’s very sad that points we earned on the pitch haven’t stayed on the pitch. But I said to the players ‘Let’s show some desire. If somebody wants a fight, let’s give them a fight.
“I couldn’t ask any more.”
PRICELESS: Jordan Bowery heads Rotherham’s equaliser, which leaves their fate in their own hands