Rotherham United fell to a 5-0 defeat at the hands of Cardiff City on Saturday as they met with former employee Neil Warnock and his staff at the Cardiff City Stadium in the Sky Bet Championship.
The hosts earned their victory courtesy of two goals prior to the break coming from Kadeem Harris and Junior Hoilett and strikes from Craig Noone and a Kenneth Zohore brace following the restart.
Rotherham United interim manager Paul Warne reshuffled his pack with four changes for the clash with old colleague Warnock’s Bluebirds in South Wales.
Joel Ekstrand was selected to don his new club’s colours for the first time and partner Richard Wood with Semi Ajayi unavailble at the heart of the Millers’ rearguard, whilst Joe Mattock was selected to start in a wide midfield berth at the expense of Jerry Yates.
Dexter Blackstock stepped in to lead the line with Danny Ward only fit enough to make the bench, while Richie Smallwood returned with Tom Adeyemi unable to face his parent club due to the terms of his loan.
There was little in the way of goalmouth action for either side in the opening 10 minutes, but the breakthrough came out of the blue for the Bluebirds after 11.
There looked to be little danger when Harris picked the ball up amidst a crowd of Millers’ shirts, but after a calm first touch, he opened up his body and bent the ball beyond O’Donnell and into the far corner to give Warnock’s side and early advantage.
Cardiff continued to test the alertness of the visitors’ rearguard with a series of crosses from both flanks, but all were well defended with the most notable clearance coming from Wood’s powerful clearance on Noone’s inswinger.
Warne’s men crafted a nice move and a chance of an equaliser moments before the 20 minute-mark with Joe Newell the architect. After some clever footwork on the left flank, the former Peterborough United man delivered a cross into Joe Mattock whose downward header fell to an unmarked Taylor, but he was thwarted as the assistant on the far side raised his flag for offside.
Having already been heavily involved in clearing Cardiff attacks, Wood went close for the Millers at the other end. A cross from the right was met with a glancing header from the visiting number six but his connection wasn’t sufficient and allowed Allan McGregor and easy gather in his area.
However, it was his contribution in front of his own net just seconds later that would prove significant. Warne would have been disappointed to see the ball fall to goalscorer Harris in space at the back post and with the home crowd ready to celebrate he rifled an effort at goal, but somehow O’Donnell made himself big to deny him his brace. The danger hadn’t passed though and the save appeared to be rolling kindly to Joe Ralls for a tap in, until Wood’s sliding intervention prevented a certain second for Cardiff City.
The absence of Ward and Warne’s system allowed Jon Taylor a role further up the pitch supporting Blackstock and that decision nearly paid dividends 10 minutes prior to the interval. A hopeful prod in behind the defence from Blackstock saw the energetic attacker give chase, but he was unable to reap the rewards for his industry as McGregor raced out to claim with Sean Morrison nervously backpedalling.
With Cardiff sensing an opportunity to increase their advantage they called O’Donnell into action again, this time to produce his best save of the game. A challenge from Ekstrand in the box was well-timed but fell fortunately back to Cardiff which allowed Kenneth Zohore to leave Wood in his wake in the box and line up a shot one-on-one, but the former Sheffield Wednesday stopper somehow produced some heroics to deny him with his legs and keep the score at 1-0.
However, Warnock’s side were dealt a blow in the immediate aftermath of that attack which left Rhys Healey on the ground. After some lengthy treatment the stretcher was called on and he was unable to return to the action, being carried down the tunnel with all four sides of the ground applauding his contribution.
His replacement came in the form of Hoilett and his impact would only be seconds in the making. The frontman couldn’t believe his luck when he found himself in behind the Millers’ defence but kept a composed head to slot the ball beyond the onrushing O’Donnell to make it 2-0.
Half-time | Cardiff City 2 v 0 Rotherham United
The Millers introduced Anthony Forde in place of Joe Mattock at the interval but it would not improve their fortunes and despite a quickly taken Will Vaulks free kick which forced a save from McGregor, were behind again just five minutes later.
An electric burst down the left from Kadeem Harris saw him break to the byline and stand up a teasing cross to the back post, where an unmarked Noone executed a well-placed volley to beat O’Donnell and give the hosts a three goal cushion.
However, Warnock’s side were clear in their intentions not to rest on the scoreline and extended their lead on 54 minutes.
A Bluebirds’ break down the left wing found it’s way to Zohore in the box and his brave decision to lash a shot at goal from an unfavourable angle proved to be a good one, as it took a slight deflection before creeping in at the back post to make it 4-0 to Neil Warnock’s side.
Hoilett set his sights on a second of the afternoon 15 minutes from time and attempted to do it without the aid of his teammates. A superb solo run saw him beat Stephen Kelly in the Millers’ right back position and cut inside to bend an effort at the far post, but Ben Purrington was well-placed to hook it away on the line.
The Millers threatened a late consolation after a superb delivery from Kelly on the left found Jerry Yates, who opted to tee up Taylor in the area, but after cutting inside he could only release a tame shot on goal which McGregor saved comfortably in the centre of his goal.
Zohore wasn’t happy with his one goal for the afternoon and changed that as the game entered the final 10 minutes with a brilliantly weighted lob. His turn of pace ensured he beat Wood to a ball over the top of the Millers’ defence and the striker set himself to lift it over the onrushing goalkeeper to make it 5-0.
Cardiff City | McGregor, Morrison, Richards, Ralls, Noone (Pilkington 72), Bamba, Connolly, Gunnarsson, Harris (John 80), Zohore, Healey (Hoilett 45).
Unused | Murphy, Bennett, Whittingham, Halford.
Millers | O’Donnell, Kelly, Ekstrand (Belaid 68), Wood, Purrington; Smallwood, Taylor, Vaulks, Newell, Mattock (Forde HT); Blackstock (Yates 59).
Unused | Bilboe, Fisher, Bray, Warren.
Att | 15,650