ROTHERHAM UNITED were dealt a blow as they slumped to a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Bristol Rovers.
Claude Davis had a debut to forget as gave away the penalty which Lee Brown converted to put the Pirates ahead before being sent off just shy of the interval for a second bookable offence.
Sub Ellis Harrison and Joe Anyinsah put the Gas in command with further strikes before sub David Noble pulled one back for the Millers with a rasping effort from distance.
Following their defeat at the hands of Barnet last time out, Steve Evans reshuffled his pack with new signing Davis handed his Millers’ debut following his release by Crawley at the expense of Ian Sharps, who has joined Burton Albion on loan until the end of the season.
Dale Tonge returned to the right-back slot while Icelandic international Kari Arnason made a welcome return from suspension as he joined Michael O’Connor at the heart of the home midfield.
In the forward positions, Evans favoured Alex Revell and club top scorer Daniel Nardiello, at the expense of Kayode Odejayi and Kieran Agard, who both dropped to the substitutes’ bench.
Following a slow opening, the Millers had the first sight of goal when Nardiello stripped Seanan Clucas of possession but despite advancing menacingly towards goal, he wasted the three-on-two opportunity with a mis-placed pass.
Following a quick counter attack by the visitors, Davis was unfortunate to see yellow as he tripped Ryan Brunt in full flight before Elliott Richards joined him in the referee’s book moments later as he cynically hauled down Arnason.
There was a moment of controversy just past the quarter-hour when Nardiello forced his way into the visitors’ box before being seemingly nudged over by Brown but to the crowds’ bemusement the referee awarded the free-kick in Rovers’ favour.
John-Joe O’Toole was the third man to see yellow as Ben Pringle capitalised on his initial error before being brought down by the ex-Watford midfielder just outside the box.
From the resultant free-kick, O’Connor’s whipped effort struck Brown in the wall which diverted the ball the over the bar.
Moments later, Pringle swung a delightful inswinging centre which was met by the head of Nardiello, but under pressure his header blazed wide of the visitors’ goal.
Following good work by Lee Frecklington on halfway, O’Connor’s slide-rule pass gave Nardiello a sight of goal but as he looked to strike, Tom Parkes’ superbly timed tackle diverted the danger.
However, the Millers were shellshocked when the Pirates broke the deadlock just two minutes before the interval.
After O’Connor was penalised, O’Toole curled a tantalising free-kick which saw Davis get on the wrongside of Brunt, before nudging him over and referee Webb had no hesitation in pointing to the penalty spot.
From the resultant spot-kick, Brown kept his composure by calmly wrongfooting Andy Warrington to slide the ball into the bottom corner.
The Millers responded bravely and after Rovers failed to clear, Frecklington’s skimming effort from the edge of the box forced a smart save from Steve Mildenhall.
The home side were then given a mountain to climb in first-half stoppage time when Davis was shown a second yellow card after he hauled down Richards as he ran towards the home box, leaving the Millers down to ten men for the second stanza.
Half-time:- Rotherham United 0 Bristol Rovers 1
Following the interval, Johnny Mullins’ clipped cross was met by the head of Revell, who headed goalwards but Mildenhall was perfectly positioned to collect smartly.
Minutes later, Richards tripped Tonge on the right flank and could be deemed fortunate to have escaped a second yellow card despite calls from the home faithful prompting Rovers’ chief John Ward to substitute him immediately with Ellis Harrison.
The Millers’ misery was compounded as Harrison made an immediate impact from the bench to double Rovers’ advantage on 52 minutes thanks to a superb individual effort.
There looked little danger when Harrison picked up possession on the left flank but with O’Connor failing to track back, he ghosted past Tonge, who failed to register a tackle of note and despite being at a narrow angle, he struck a superb effort which whistled past Andy Warrington into the heart of the home goal.
The Millers were struggling to find their rhythm and it was no surprise when Rovers added a third just past the hour mark.
Following a switch of play, Anyinsah capitalised on hesitation in the home defence with both Liam Ridehalgh and sub Courtney Cameron caught out of position and he raced into the box before firing a stinging effort which squirmed under the body of Warrington.
The home side rallied to mount their best move of the match when a ball forward was superbly chested down by sub Odejayi into the path of the on-rushing Frecklington, who drilled a low effort which was arrowing into the bottom corner until Mildenhall’s late intervention.
The home side continued to press and they were rewarded for their pressure when sub David Noble pulled a goal back, with seemingly his first touch following his introduction at the expense of Frecklington.
After the visitors’ failed to clear, the ball fell into the path of Noble, who took a couple of touches to weigh up his options before striking a superb effort from distance which fizzed into the roof of the net giving Mildenhall no chance.
The home side were rallying bravely and they almost reduced the arrears further when Mullins climbed highest from Arnason’s centre but his header failed to trouble the visitors’ ‘keeper.
Despite further promptings from the home side, Rovers’ held on record a much-needed victory in their battle to avoid the drop from the Football League.
Full-time:- Rotherham United 1 Bristol Rovers 3
Rotherham: Warrington, Tonge, Davis, Mullins, Ridehalgh, Arnason, Frecklington (Noble 72), O'Connor, Pringle, Revell (Odejayi 59), Nardiello (Cameron 46)
Subs not used: Thompson, Morgan, Agard, Kearns
Bristol R: Mildenhall, Smith, Parkes, McChrystal, Brown, Norburn, Clucas, O'Toole, Brunt (Woodards 81), Richards (Harrison 50), Anyinsah (Clarkson 72)
Subs not used: Gough, Broghammer, McDonald, Hitchcock