PORT Vale dealt a blow to Rotherham United’s automatic promotion hopes as they withstood a late Millers’ barrage to open a six point gap between themselves and their hosts in the League Two standings.
Following a poor first-half, Louis Dodds and former Miller Tom Pope gave Vale a two-goal cushion before sub Kieran Agard set up a grandstand finish by pulling one back near the end.
Following their 11th hour postponement at Bristol Rovers at the weekend, Steve Evans named an unchanged line-up from their impressive cup scalp at Notts County with Johnny Mullins and Kari Arnason retaining their positions at the heart of the home defence.
There was a familiar face in the visitors’ ranks with Pope leading the line for the Valiants following his impressive 20 plus goal haul in the first half of the campaign.
The Millers were quick out of the blocks and after Vale failed to clear a Arnason bullet throw decisively, Lee Frecklington’s mis-hit effort fell invitingly into the path of Daniel Nardiello, but he screwed his effort wide of the target.
At the other end, Jennison Myrie-Williams almost pounced on defensive hesitation as he capitalised on a weak back header but he was snuffed out by a combination of Andy Warrington and Arnason as he looked to strike goalwards.
In the next phase of play, the Millers came within a whisker of the breakthrough when a long punt forward from Warrington was flicked on into the path of Alex Revell, who instinctively struck a rasping effort which almost caught Chris Neal out at his near post but his effort whistled against the side netting.
Just past the quarter-hour, a quick counter saw Revell break with menace but his slide-rule pass saw Liam Chivers clear the danger with Ben Pringle in attendance, before Mullins rose highest from an Arnason long-throw but his glancing header failed to trouble Neal.
Moments later, Mark Bradley blazed over the bar from the edge of the box as he was the quickest to react from a Revell knockdown before Michael O’Connor saw yellow after clumsily clattering into Sam Morsy as Vale attempted to break clear.
On the half-hour mark, Doug Loft became the second player cautioned following a late clip on Jack O’Connell before Chivers’ long punt upfield almost left Warrington red faced as it skipped off the wet surface forcing him to tip over the bar.
In the next phase of play, Pope almost came back to haunt his former club as he was the first to meet Ryan Burge’s inswinging corner but he was crowded out at the far post as he headed goalwards.
At the other end, O’Connor struck an effort over from the edge of the box after Bradley’s marauding run and cross from the right flank before Nardiello headed over following Revell’s clever flick-on moments later.
Dodds became the latest player in the referee’s notebook following a show of dissent before O’Connor was tactically replaced by Agard as the ex-Scunthorpe midfielder was walking a tightrope following his earlier caution.
Half-time:- Rotherham United 0 Port Vale 0
The Millers started the second stanza with a positive intent and Arnason’s floated delivery gave Agard a glimpse of goal but his header flew harmlessly wide of the target, before Nardiello planted a header wide following Bradley’s teasing centre moments later.
However, Vale stunned the home faithful on 56 minutes by breaking the deadlock against the run of play.
After Rotherham failed to clear the ball decisively, an incisive ball into the feet of Pope, saw him cleverly lay the ball into the advancing run of Dodds, who calmly slotted the ball past the outstretched hand of Warrington into the bottom corner of the goal.
Minutes later, Pope saw yellow following an off-the-ball clash with Jason Taylor before Myrie-Williams’ skimming effort was well smothered by Warrington.
However, Vale gave the home side a mountain to climb when they doubled their advantage on 63 minutes following a swift counter-attack.
There looked little danger but with the Rotherham rearguard playing a high line, a through ball from Adam Yates saw Pope superbly time his run to perfection to beat the offside trap and with the former Rotherham hitman showing Mullins a clean pair of heels, he showed great composure to dink the ball over the advancing Warrington into the unguarded net.
However, the Millers were given a lifeline on 83 minutes following a surging run and cross by sub Kayode Odejayi.
Following a ball into the left channel, Odejayi showed strength and pace to shrug off the attentions of John McCombe to skip to the byline before playing a clever reverse pass into the path of the unmarked Agard, who calmly swept the ball into the heart of the visitors’ goal.
Richard Duffy became the latest Vale player to see yellow for clipping sub Courtney Cameron in full flight.before Arnason blazed over from distance after the home side had Vale penned against their own box for a prolonged spell without making the telling break.
With five minutes of injury-time signalled, Revell was booked for a visible show of dissent near the end but despite a late home rally, Vale held firm to record maximum points.
Full-time:- Rotherham United 1 Port Vale 2
By Chris Jackson
Teams:- Rotherham- Warrington, Bradley, Mullins, Arnason, O’Connell, Pringle (Cameron 64), J Taylor, O’Connor (Agard 42), Frecklington, Nardiello (Odejayi 71), Revell.
Unused:- Shearer, Sharps, Walker, Ridehalgh.
Port Vale:- Neal, Yates, McCombe, Loft, Dodds (Andrew 79), Myrie-Williams (R Taylor 87), Pope, Morsy, Burge, Duffy, Chivers.
Unused:- Johnson, McDonald, Shuker, Williamson, James.
Referee:- Trevor Kettle
Attendance:- 10,502 (1354)
Man of the Match:- Alex Revell