Rotherham 0 City 0
Start spreading the news.... City left the New York Stadium with a point off Rotherham at last!
After six defeats on the bounce at the hands of the Millers, Phil Parkinson’s side delivered a gritty performance.
While it may be 1,131 days since City last beat them, it will feel like a victory after so much frustration.
The draw lifted them up to 50 points – surely enough now to stop fretting about the logjam of teams behind them.
For Rotherham boss Steve Evans, a first failure to beat City means their top-two ambitions are almost certainly gone.
Evans had conceded defeat in the race for automatic promotion after Tuesday’s 1-0 defeat at Sheffield United – their first loss since New Year’s Day.
Rotherham had amassed 40 points during that 16-game unbeaten run; City, by comparison, had taken 18 from the same stage.
And nobody needed reminding about the history of this fixture – suffice to say that Peter Jackson was the last Bantams boss to taste victory over the Millers with the “was it, wasn’t it” last-minute winner from Tom Adeyemi over three years ago.
Since that famous love-in scene between Jacko and his players on the Valley Parade touchline, it has been a long tale of woe and misery when West Yorkshire meets South.
It was the 20-month-old New York Stadium’s TV debut and Evans joked beforehand that there was more chance of City being shown against the Red Lion.
It may have been typical exaggeration from the Scot but recent results between them had been enough to drive even the most tee-total Bantams fan to drink. The Millers had certainly made them look a pub team on their previous two visits.
The ever-present keeper was guaranteed a much more hectic evening in front of the Sky cameras against the Football League’s leading marksmen, who had scored in every home game since November 23.
Nathan Doyle was back after four games out with a groin injury so Parkinson beefed up central midfield with the extra man.
Aaron Mclean’s absence with a tight hamstring left Jon Stead in a lone attacking role supported by Adam Reach and Kyle Bennett either side.
Bennett had the first wild effort of the game after dispossessing Joe Skarz before McLaugh-lin saved comfortably from Alex Revell.
City settled fairly well in the frantic early exchanges and Stead volleyed over on the turn from an Andrew Davies flick-on.
There was a solid shape about the visitors with Doyle screening the back four. Alongside him, Gary Jones seemed to be covering every inch of a pitch voted this week as the best in League One.
City had survived the trademark Rotherham fast start that had often proved their downfall.
A few groans of frustration could be heard in the stands until Ben Pringle, always a menace in these fixtures, suddenly sprung into life with a dangerous effort from the edge of the box.
McLaughlin’s block rebounded to Revell but the ball came too fast for the striker to get over his shot.
Nicky Adams drove across the six-yard box as Rotherham tried to build a head of steam. Then Kieran Agard’s scuffed shot almost turned into the perfect cross for the stretching Revell – a couple more shoe sizes and he would have deflected it home.
Davies snuffed out a menacing move by Agard as City were getting pushed further back but there were still no major concerns.
It was fairly drab entertainment for the armchair audience at home. For the Bantams though, it made a welcome change to reach the interval against Rotherham still very much in contention.
But that disciplined work could have been undone within 45 seconds of the restart.
Michael O’Connor’s curling free-kick beat everyone and bounced off the far post before the follow-up shot from Adams was deflected wide.
Richard Smallwood dragged a free effort wide from the corner but that had sparked the game into life.
City’s response was immediate as they started to get Reach into the game.
First, he claimed Bennett’s deep cross, chested it down and volleyed across goal.
Then he had a better chance from City’s next attack. Reach stripped the ball from Rother-ham’s Bradford-born right back James Tavernier, cut inside Craig Morgan and was bearing down on keeper Adam Collin.
But the winger took the shot with the outside of his left foot rather than his weaker right and the keeper was able to block with his legs.
At the other end, Pringle got on the end of Revell’s header but shot straight at McLaughlin. The rising volume was proof that it was livening up at last.
Haris Vuckic, who scored the Valley Parade winner on Boxing Day, replaced Adams just after the hour as Evans looked to shake things up.
The Slovenian immediately played Tavernier inside Drury but McLaughlin was equal to the defender’s effort.
Vuckic also dispossessed Davies on halfway but Matty Dolan tracked back to smother. Then Davies atoned for that mistake with a perfectly-timed block on Agard by the penalty spot.
But Vuckic was not finished – and wasted a massive chance to break the deadlock with 20 minutes to go.
Revell diverted Skarz’s cross into the sub’s path unmarked ten yards out. But he opted to try to chip McLaughlin rather than go for power and cleared the bar.
City made a change with 13 minutes to go – as Raffaele De Vita put four months of injury frustration behind him with a first appearance since before Christmas.
The Italian was pushed into a support role for Stead in a bid to ease the building pressure.
Stead’s hold-up play had improved as the game went on but he suffered a groggy head for his troubles when he clattered into the keeper challenging for a cross.
There threatened to be even more pain for his side when Kari Arnason had a free header six yards out from Pringle’s corner. But the Icelandic centre half nodded over as the goal beckoned.
City’s stubborn resistance deserved that break. It had been a long, long time coming.