If truth be told, it was a rather mundane start, with nary a slightest hint of the spectacular moment that was to define this game.
For Rotherham, the running around, standing jumps and those quick little step things that they did just prior to kick off looked like they actually made a difference as they penned Forest in and kept the ball well. At this stage, the game was doing a more than passable impersonation of the opening to the Bournemouth and Middlesbrough games. However, clear-cut chances were at a premium and the game quickly settled down into one of those midfield battles. In fact, if you were asked to imagine a game between Forest and Rotherham in a midweek on a slightly colder than you might hope for evening with both teams, in theory, having lots to play for but in reality, one probably safe from relegation regardless of their own results and the other still clinging on to a slender chance of the play-offs, then this game was pretty much that. That’s not to say it was boring or lacking commitment, but just that it all seemed a bit low-key. In fact, it bore all the hallmarks of exactly the type of game Forest tend to lose: midweek, lower league opposition, slow start.
But as half-time approached Michail Antonio chipped a ball through to Dexter Blackstock who knew full well he didn’t have the pace to outrun the defender. So, he did the next best thing – no, he didn’t look up and try to find Antonio with a return pass – he chipped the ball over Adam Collin’s despairing fingertips. This was a pleasant outcome but a mere prelude to the main event.
Moments later, Antonio picked up the ball in his own half and ran. Imagine Fezzik from The Princess Bride trampling down the High Street, brushing off chuggers who then stare blankly at their supervisor as if to say, ‘what do you expect me to do about it?’ On approaching the edge of the Millers’ area, all that was required was the finish to produce an iconic goal; Antonio opened his locker and emptied the bag marked ‘angled drive into the corner of the net’ all over the floor. This left some rubbing their eyes in disbelief, like a drunk looking at his brown bagged-up bottle of liquor after seeing Godzilla or some other incredulous scene rip a city to shreds and then pulling a face as if to say, ‘gottta give this stuff up, man’.
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From hereon, Antonio tormented Jack Hunt and then his replacement, Frazer Richardson like a playground bully: showing him the ball and then zipping off in the other direction. Short of building a brick wall around him, there was no stopping him. He got the groove. Remember that iconic picture of Diego Maradona surrounded by a gazillion Belgian defenders at the '86 World Cup?
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Tonight a brilliant player showed he is truly Maradona's heir <a href="http://t.co/RKQ7Kkjl66">pic.twitter.com/RKQ7Kkjl66</a></p>— Nick Miller (@NickMiller79) <a href="https://twitter.com/NickMiller79/status/578328982980022272">March 18, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
After the game, Dougie Freedman talked of how these things don’t just happen but are actually the result of a plan. We imagine the pre-game team-talk resembled something like this:
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Of course, it would be deeply remiss not to mention the truly beautiful sight of Tyler Walker scampering onto the field to make his first team debut. For those who grew up idolising his father, it was a genuinely moving and emotional moment: not quite Stuart Pearce emerging from the tunnel pre-Blackpool, but not a million miles behind. Once again, we were left with a fuzzy warm feeling in our tummies borne out of the idea that this club of ours maybe, just maybe, resembles the extended family we envisage it to be.