ROTHERHAM UNITED’s automatic promotion hopes were given a boost as they put local rivals Chesterfield to the sword thanks to Johnny Mullins’ second-half header.
In a red-hot atmosphere, the Millers rose to the occasion by dominating the Derbyshire side for large periods and they were rewarded for their superiority when Mullins stooped home just shy of the hour mark.
Following their impressive victory over Torquay United in midweek, Steve Evans kept faith with the majority of his starting line-up as he made just one change.
Midfielder David Noble returned to the side following suspension with Kieran Agard dropping to the substitutes’ bench.
For the visitors’, veteran Jack Lester formed an impressive looking strike partnership with Marc Richards while ex-Millers loanee Mark Randall was named amongst the substitutes for Paul Cook’s men.
The visitors’ had the first sight of goal when Lester picked up the loose ball on halfway and with home defenders backtracking, he fired a skimming drive which forced Andy Warrington into a smart save.
From the resultant punt upfield by the home ‘keeper, the ball fell kindly for Daniel Nardiello, who danced around Liam Cooper with a minimum of fuss before firing a low drive which beat the outstretched hand of Tommy Lee but agonisingly smacked against the outside of the post.
Moments later, a ball into the channel found Alex Revell in space who fizzed a first-time cross which narrowly evaded the outstretched foot of Nardiello, as he had ghosted behind the last line of defence.
The Millers were looking the most likely and following good work by Kari Arnason, Daniel Kearns fired a stinging effort from distance which deflected off Neal Trotman before looping narrowly over the bar.
At the other end, Warrington showed great reflexes to snuff out the danger as Drew Talbot’s dangerous centre struck Claude Davis before falling in the grateful hands of the Rotherham stopper on his own line.
The home side had faint appeals for a spot kick as Trotman get himself in an awkward position in his own box but the referee waved away home shouts before Noble’s curling free-kick from just outside the box stung the palms of Lee moments later.
The Millers then launched a quick counter attack as Nardiello beat the offside trap and his first time cross found Kearns, whose pull back saw Noble strike goalwards but his effort was deflected wide by a retreating defender.
Just shy of the half-hour, Cooper’s arrowed free-kick was misjudged by a home defender and Richards controlled smartly before firing an effort with the outside of his right foot but to Rotherham’s relief his effort failed to trouble Warrington as it struck the side netting.
At the other end, Noble’s floated set-piece was met by the head of Davis, but his downward header lacked power as it was comfortably gathered by Lee.
Minutes later, Warrington’s clearance was flicked on by Revell into the path of Nardiello, whose first time effort had Lee scrambling across his line to parry the ball to safety.
Cooper then saw yellow for clipping Revell as he looked to strike goalwards from the edge of the box but Rotherham failed to make them pay as Noble’s resultant free-kick was blocked.
Minutes later, Kearns and Revell combined smartly to release the Peterborough loanee but his bobbling cross was hacked clear by Cooper with Nardiello waiting to pounce.
With Rotherham in the ascendancy, Noble’s clipped cross saw Revell strike a sweet shot which was deflected wide.
From the resultant corner, Noble’s floated corner saw Lee flap in attempting to clear and Arnason attempted to bundle the ball home from point-blank range but he was denied by a ruck of bodies on the line.
With half-time approaching, Kearns’ showed clever footwork to evade Talbot before floating an inviting centre which was met by the head of Mark Bradley, but his downward header was scrambled clear by the visitors’.
In a rare foray by the visitors, Talbot’s cross gave Lester a sniff of goal but his instinctive strike was bravely blocked by Mullins.
Half-time:- Rotherham United 0 Chesterfield 0
Following the restart, the Millers had the first sight of goal when a long punt put Revell in the clear but he screwed his effort wide of the target when he really should have done better.
Minutes later, a quick throw caught the visitors’ napping and Nardiello had Nathan Smith in a daze before firing a cross-cum-shot which was smothered by Lee.
Following good work by Kearns on the left flank, Liam Ridehalgh swung a tantalising centre which picked out the unmarked Nardiello, but he blazed his header over from eight yards.
The Millers were finally rewarded for their pressure with the breakthrough on 58 minutes thanks to their skipper Mullins.
Following a period of pressure, Noble floated a delightful corner which saw the ex-Stockport County defender bulldoze his way through a ruck of bodies to meet his centre to power an unstoppable header into the heart of the goal from point-blank range giving Lee no chance.
The visitors responded immediately and Sam Togwell dragged a shot wide following Lester’s lay-off before Richards blasted over from an acute angle.
With fifteen minutes to go, Revell’s superb flick-on released Nardiello, who teased and tormented Trotman before dragging a shot narrowly wide of the target.
Lee Freckington then saw yellow for tripping Armaud Gnanduillet in full flight but on a more positive note seconds later he forced Lee into a smart save following a stinging drive.
The visitors momentarily thought they were on level terms with five minutes to go when an arrowed ball saw Gnanduillet knock the ball down into the path of the on-rushing Togwell, who calmly slid the ball past Warrington but his joy was curtailed by the offside flag.
With time running out, Arnason fizzed a free-kick narrowly over the bar from distance before Chesterfield came within a whisker of the equaliser when Talbot’s glancing header from Conor Townsend’s inswinging free-kick shaved the outside of the post to the relief of the vast majority of the New York Stadium.
In the last play of the game, Townsend’s corner saw Gnanduillet climb highest but his header screwed well wide of the target.
Full-time:- Rotherham United 1 Chesterfield 0
Millers: Warrington, Davis, Mullins, Ridehalgh, Arnason, Bradley, Noble, Frecklington, Kearns (Cameron 90), Revell (Odejayi 83), Nardiello (Slew 85).
Unused: Thompson, Tonge, Pringle, Agard
Chesterfield: Lee, Smith, Trotman, Hird, Cooper, Togwell, Whitaker (Brindley 71), Talbot, O'Shea (Gnanduillet 60), Richards, Lester (Townsend 60).
Unused: Barrington, Clay, Randall, Wafula.