KIERAN Agard was the Rotherham United hero as his second-half strike helped the Millers’ keep the pressure on League Two’s frontrunners following a 2-1 victory over Fleetwood Town.
Following their handsome victory over Exeter in midweek, Steve Evans kept faith with the majority of his starting line-up with the only change being skipper Johnny Mullins returning at full-back following suspension at the expense of Dale Tonge.
There was a familiar face for Millers’ followers in the Fleetwood line-up with Gareth Evans making a return to the New York Stadium.
The Millers were quick out of the blocks and they made the perfect start by making the breakthrough after just three minutes.
Following a Fleetwood attack, Craig Morgan made a clearance which fizzed down the touchline and with Daniel Nardiello and Alex Revell in hot pursuit, Alan Goodall’s backpass saw ‘keeper Scott Davies make a hurried clearance.
The ball fell invitingly into the stride of Nardiello, who controlled smartly before firing a half volley which beat the outstretched hand of Davies before nestling into the bottom corner of the goal.
The Ex-Exeter striker’s joy was tempered as he was caught by a last-ditch tackle from a visitors’ defender as he struck goalwards and was forced to leave the pitch shortly after celebrating the goal.
The home sides’ lead then proved to be short-lived when still down to ten men, Fleetwood stunned the home faithful by equalising on six minutes.
Evans got the better of Kari Arnason on the left wing before playing an incisive centre across the goalmouth but although Junior Brown fluffed his effort, the ball fell kindly into the path of David Ball, who stroked the ball home from point-blank range.
The Millers’ cause was not helped when Nardiello was forced to leave the action with Lee Frecklington entering the fray as Kieran Agard joined Revell upfront.
The visitors were visibly buoyed by the leveller and Ball curled a delightful effort which had Scott Shearer scrambling across his goal before Revell almost got on the end of Pringle’s mishit effort but he was adjudged offside as he looked to poke goalwards minutes later.
Minutes later, Frecklington and Jamie McGuire were involved in an ugly tussle with both players on the floor following a collision and McGuire was fortunate to escape with a yellow card after initially lashing out at Frecklington, which saw the Rotherham midfielder react angrily.
Just shy of the half-hour mark, Arnason floated a free-kick which was flicked on smartly by Revell into the path of Agard, who got on the wrong side of his marker but with the goal at his mercy, he dragged his shot wide of the target.
At the other end, after Frecklington hacked down McGuire in an inviting position, Evans failed to trouble Shearer with the resultant free kick as it sailed over the bar.
After Fleetwood failed to clear decisively, Pringle pounced on possession before playing a slide-rule pass into the path of Frecklington, whose cross-cum-shot was deflected by Shaun Beeley, but despite Davies being wrong-footed, the ball rolled agonisingly wide of the upright.
With half-time approaching, Michael O’Connor fired a fierce free-kick from distance which had Davies at full stretch but it whizzed narrowly wide of the upright.
Moments later, Arnason arrowed a long throw into the box which had the visitors’ defence at sixes and sevens but despite finding Pringle in acres of space at the far post, he blazed his effort over from close range.
Half-time:- Rotherham United 1 Fleetwood Town 1
Following the restart, Fleetwood had the first sight of goal when Brown fired a daisycutter which was comfortably gathered by Shearer.
Referee Carl Boyeson then waved away strong home appeals for a spot-kick when Revell appeared to be tripped by Jamille Matt before O’Connor fired a dipping volley which whizzed narrowly over in the bar in the next phase of play.
The Millers were building the pressure and after Beeley’s backheader caught Davies flat-footed, Revell almost left the Fleetwood ‘keeper red-faced as he sneaked in but his toe-poked effort rolled tantalisingly wide.
The home side were looking the most likely and they came within a whisker of regaining the lead when Mullins towered above his marker following a Pringle inswinger but his looping header was cleared off the line by a well-stationed defender.
However, the Millers’ were rewarded for their pressure on 63 minutes when Frecklington found Pringle on the edge of the box, who jinked his way past his marker to find a yard of space before drilling an effort which was deflected into the path of Agard, who got the ball from under his feet before calmly slotting the ball into the corner of the goal.
Rotherham were galvanised by the strike and Frecklington’s snap shot from just outside the box almost made it three before Arnason headed over from O’Connor’s corner moments later.
The visitors’ were visibly rattled and Beeley found himself in the referee’s notebook for a cynical trip on Agard before Conor McLaughlin fizzed an effort which failed to trouble Shearer.
Pringle then became the latest to see yellow for hauling down Beeley in full flight before Frecklington found Pringle, who skimmed an effort which forced Davies in a full-length save minutes later.
However, the Cod Army almost stunned the Millers with a speedy counter attack and sub Andrew Mangan worked a shooting position but from an acute angle, his strike struck the side netting with Shearer guarding the near post.
Full-time:- Rotherham United 2 Fleetwood Town 1
Teams:- Rotherham- Shearer, Mullins, Arnason, Morgan, Skarz, Agard (Ainsworth 84), O’Connor, Noble, Pringle, Revell (Odejayi 90+1), Nardiello (Frecklington 8). Unused:- Warrington, Tonge, Davis, Ridehalgh.
Fleetwood:- Davies, Beeley (Nicholson 83), Matt, Brown, Goodall, McLaughlin, McGuire (Fountaine 90), Ball, Edwards, Evans (Mangan 76), McKenna. Unused:- Lucas, Barry, Crowther, Atkinson.
Referee:- Carl Boyeson
Attendance:- 7360 (201)