ROTHERHAM UNITED bounced back to winning ways as they brushed aside the challenge of Oxford United thanks to a double salvo from Michael O’Connor and a late effort from Jason Taylor.
O’Connor struck from the penalty spot to snuff out Sean Rigg’s early effort before the ex-Scunthorpe midfielder added a second to give the Millers the lead.
A superb double save from 'keeper Scott Shearer then preserved the lead before the Millers swept upfield to put the game beyond the visitors as sub Taylor slipped the ball into an empty net following Wayne Brown’s error.
Following their stuttering form of late, Steve Evans reshuffled his pack making four changes with left-back Bob Harris handed his debut following his month-long loan switch from Blackpool on Thursday.
Kari Arnason, who picked up an injury on international duty with Iceland, made a welcome return to the starting line-up in his favoured central midfield role while Lionel Ainsworth and Gareth Evans returned to the flanks as striker Alex Revell was forced to sit this game out due to suspension following his red card against Barnet last week.
With strikers Daniel Nardiello and Kieran Agard on the bench, the Millers started with a 4-4-1-1 formation as Kayode Odejayi led the line with Ben Pringle in support.
Following a steady opening, the visitors stunned the home side by making the breakthrough after just eight minutes.
After Nicky Hunt was forced to turn the ball behind, quick thinking from Jake Forster-Caskey from the resultant corner saw Rigg ghost from a central position before drilling a low drive from the edge of box which beat the outstretched hand of Shearer before nestling in the net.
The visitors were buoyed by the opener and after O’Connor was penalised, Forster-Caskey floated a tantalising free-kick which was met by Lee Cox but his deft flick flew harmlessly wide of the target.
Moments later, Tony Capaldi punted a long-ball forward which was only half-cleared by Ian Sharps paving the way for Alfie Potter to control smartly before striking a fierce left-footed volley which stung the palms of Shearer, who gathered at the second attempt.
The visitors were looking the most likely and following a swift counter-attack, Forster-Caskey released Tom Craddock, who shrugged off the attentions of Sharps, before bundling the ball goalwards but the ex-Shrewsbury defender managed to clear the ball with Shearer beaten.
In their first foray of note, O’Connor’s outswinging corner was flicked on by Odejayi into the path of Evans, but his acrobatic effort failed to trouble Wayne Brown.
Moments later, the Millers came within a whisker of the equaliser when O’Connor floated an innocuous centre which Brown spilled under pressure from Evans and the ball fell invitingly into the path of Pringle, whose goalbound effort was deflected off a retreating defender before agonisingly striking the underside of the bar.
However, the Millers were rewarded for their pressure with the equaliser on the half-hour mark.
Following a diagonal ball across the box, Ainsworth looked a certain scorer but his well-struck volley struck the woodwork but with the Oxford defence at sixes and sevens, Odejayi attempted to turn the ball goalwards from an acute angle before being brought down by ex-Miller Michael Raynes and referee Graham Salisbury had no hesitation in pointing to the spot.
From the resultant spot-kick, O’Connor kept his nerve to calmly stroke the ball the far corner of the net past the despairing dive of Brown.
Minutes later, Arnason was yellow-carded for a rash challenge on Harry Worley and from the resultant free-kick, Forster-Caskey’s curling effort was well snuffed out by Shearer at his near post.
With seconds remaining of the half, Rotherham countered quickly as O’Connor picked up the loose ball before forcefully running from the heart of midfield and with numbers in support, he picked out Odejayi, who weighed up his options before curling an effort which skimmed past the post.
Half-time:- Rotherham United 1 Oxford United 1
Following the restart, the Millers were quick out of the blocks and Pringle’s inswinging centre was met by the head of Odejayi, but his glancing header fizzed past the far post with Brown flying across goal.
At the other end, Forster-Caskey’s outswinging corner saw Raynes climb above his marker before powering a header which flew narrowly over the bar.
Moments later, Capaldi’s bullet throw found Rigg, who headed into the ground before the ball bounced viciously forcing Shearer to tip over the bar.
In a see-saw battle, Rotherham raced upfield in the blink of an eye and Evans skilfully evaded the attentions of Damian Batt before firing a swerving drive which almost deceived Brown, but he somehow parried the ball to safety.
Minutes later, Arnason’s long throw caused confusion in the visitors’ backline and Odejayi poked the ball goalwards but Capaldi was on-hand to clear before Harris’ inviting centre saw the ex-Barnsley frontman climb highest in the next phase of play but his guided header was smothered by Brown, who dived successfully to his right.
After Capaldi’s jinking run and shot forced Shearer into a smart save, Rotherham countered smartly at the other end and Ainsworth’s snap shot saw Brown save at his near post.
With 20 minutes to go, Arnason’s long throw was not dealt with decisively and sub Agard almost turned the ball through a ruck of bodies into the net but the ball rolled agonisingly wide of the upright.
However, following a period of pressure and the backing of over 7,000 home fans, the Millers made the telling breakthrough with 17 minutes remaining.
With a fine-flowing move involving Pringle and Arnason stretching the visitors’ rearguard, Hunt raced unchallenged into the box before floating a cross which found Odejayi at the far stick and the targetman calmly pulled the ball back into the path of O’Connor, who struck a sweet strike with the outside of his right foot, which arrowed past the dive of Brown to find the far corner of the goal.
The Millers were finding their rhythm and slick interplay involving Ainsworth saw Hunt cleverly pull the ball into the danger area paving the way for Pringle, to fire a rasping effort which forced Brown into a superb reflex save.
Moments later, Ainsworth jinked his way past Capaldi before striking an effort which had Brown scrambling across goal before good defending from Craig Morgan preserved the home lead as Potter looked certain to latch onto Peter Leven’s tantalising centre until his intervention.
The game then turned in a whirlwind 60 seconds as Oxford looked to have got themselves on level terms but a superb double save from Scott Shearer denied them as he superbly tipped a point-blank header onto the upright before blocking the rebound with his legs.
The Millers then swept upfield to put the game beyond the visitors with a third following a superb counter-attack.
Following a clearance upfield, the ball fell to Ainsworth, who showed the home defence a clean pair of heels and with players in support, his weak cross looked to have been snuffed out by Brown but under pressure from Agard, he spilled the ball and it rolled out to the grateful Taylor who calmly stroked the ball into the empty net.
Full-time:- Rotherham United 3 Oxford United 1
Rotherham:- Shearer, Hunt, Morgan, Sharps, Harris, Ainsworth, Arnason, O’Connor (Bradley 90), Pringle (Taylor 84), Evans (Agard 57), Odejayi.
Unused:- Warrington, Mullins, Naridello, Noble.
Oxford:- Brown, Batt, Raynes, Wright, Capaldi, Potter, Cox, Worley (Leven 63), Rigg, Craddock (Smalley 57), Forster-Caskey (Constable 81).
Unused:- Clarke, Heslop, O’Brien, Boateng.
Attendance:- 7258 (460)
Words: Chris Jackson