ROTHERHAM UNITED withstood a stirring second-half fightback from high-flying Stevenage to book their place in the FA Cup Second Round.
A first-half strike from Mark Bradley and a double salvo from Lee Frecklington put the Millers’ in control of the tie but James Dunne and Felipe Morais reduced the arrears in a pulsating second-half as Steve Evans’ men held on despite some nervy moments near the end.
Following their fine run of form of late, the Millers’ made three changes to the starting line-up with Hull loanee Jamie Devitt given a home debut following the long-term injury to Lionel Ainsworth, Bradley replacing Dale Tonge at right-back while Kayode Odejayi returned to the fray at the expense of Daniel Nardiello, who was suffering from a hamstring strain which kept him out of the action.
The Millers’ started on the frontfoot and they had the first sight of goal when Kari Arnason’s long throw wasn’t cleared decisively by the visitors’ rearguard paving the way for Frecklington to strike an instinctive drive which was arrowing goalwards until a retreating defender headed the ball over the bar.
Minutes later, quick thinking from Devitt saw Ben Pringle float a delightful centre which was met by the head of Ian Sharps but his point-blank header was diverted narrowly wide of the upright.
The big centre-half was in the thick of the action in the next phase of play when Josh Morris swung a deep centre which saw the ex-Shrewsbury defender climb above his marker to power a header which grazed the far post with ‘keeper Steve Arnold a helpless bystander.
The home side were dominating the early proceedings and Odejayi narrowly failed to make contact from a tantalising cross from Devitt before the lively winger blazed over the crossbar moments later after Frecklington’s centre was only half-cleared.
However, the League One frontrunners almost stunned the home faithful in their first foray of note as Rotherham had ‘keeper Andy Warrington for keeping the scores level.
Following a lively counter-attack, Morais played a superb slide-rule pass across the box and Marcus Haber looked a certain scorer but his drilled effort from point-blank range was superbly blocked by the legs of Warrington.
At the other end, Arnason rose highest from Pringle’s inswinging free-kick but his header narrowly cleared the crossbar before Morris bulldozed his way past David Gray before striking a sweet left-footed drive which had Arnold nervously scurrying across goal.
The Millers then wasted a glorious two-on-one position when Pringle’s clever pass opened up the Stevenage defence but Frecklington took the wrong option as his tame effort failed to trouble Arnold, declining the opportunity to give Devitt a free run on goal.
With twenty minutes gone, the home side were angered when Morais appealed optimistically for a spot-kick despite minimal contact in the box before the Millers’ deservedly made the breakthrough just shy of the half-hour mark.
After Arnason’s throw was only half-cleared, clever footwork from Craig Morgan and the Icelandic international saw the ball find it’s way to Devitt, who worked a yard of space to shrug off the attentions of Anthony Grant before drilling a cross which saw Bradley, ghost away from his marker before diverting the ball into the far corner of the net.
The Millers’ were rampant at this stage and Stevenage had Grant to thank on two occasions when he was well-stationed to firstly clear, a goalbound Ben Pringle effort before being on-hand to clear a downward
header from Alex Revell moments later.
In a rare attack by the visitors, Luke Freeman’s curling centre found the unmarked Lucas Akins but his point-blank header was straight down the throat of Warrington.
Half-time:- Rotherham United 1 Stevenage 0
Following the interval, the Millers’ continued where they left off when Pringle superbly picked out Revell, but his snap shot was directed straight at Arnold.
At the other end, sub Patrick Agyemang shrugged off Sharps before releasing Haber, whose cross-cum-shot was diverted behind by Morris.
From the resultant corner, an inviting centre saw Bondz N’Gala nod goalwards from just yards out but superb reflexes from Warrington preserved Rotherham’s slender lead.
The save proved crucial minutes later when Rotherham took a strangehold on the tie with two goals in three minutes from Peterborough loanee Frecklington.
Firstly, Pringle swung a harmless centre which was bundled clear by Mark Roberts but the ball fell kindly into the path of Freckington, who unleashed a skimming drive which beat the outstretched hand of Arnold before nestling into the bottom corner of the net.
The Millers were running riot and they looked to have put the game beyond the visitors minutes later when Morris’ forced his way into the visitors box before being held up but Frecklington was on-hand to fire a left-footed effort which took a wicked deflection to wrongfoot Arnold before settling in the heart of the goal.
However, the visitors’ gave themselves a lifeline minutes later when Dunne played a one-two with Agyemang before unleashing a rasping effort from 25 yards which sailed into the top corner giving Warrington no chance.
The goal sparked Stevenage into life and Grant fired a rising effort from distance which flew narrowly over the crossbar before Morais’ superbly flighted free-kick saw Haber power a header which was smartly gathered by Warrington on his own goalline.
However, home hearts’ started to flutter when Stevenage reduced the arrears further on 72 minutes.
Following a centre from the right touchline, Haber looked to turn and shoot but his shot was blocked and the ball squirmed to the unmarked Morais, who calmly stroked the ball home from point-blank range.
The home fans’ nerves were almost eased when Frecklington came within a whisker of claiming the matchball when his fierce drive flew inches wide of the upright.
With the game in the balance, Agyemang shrugged off Morgan before striking an effort which forced Warrington into a full-length save before the ex-Bury stopper was in action minutes later when sub Dani Lopez showed good skill to control and volley an effort into his grateful hands.
In stoppage time, Agard’s mazy run was abruptly halted by Morais and from the resultant free-kick, Michael O’Connor curled a sublime free-kick which forced Arnold into an acrobatic save.
The visitors came within a whisker of forcing a replay in the dying seconds when a hopeful punt saw Haber climb highest to plant a downward header which beat Warrington but Arnason was stationed on the line to hack the ball clear.
Full-time:- Rotherham United 3 Stevenage 2
Rotherham:- Warrington, Bradley, Sharps, Morgan, Morris, Devitt (O’Connor 77), Arnason, Frecklington, Pringle (Agard 83), Revell (Taylor 90), Odejayi. Unused:- Thompson, Taylor, Evans, Hunt.
Stevenage:- Arnold, Gray (Lopez 85), Charles, Grant, Dunne, Haber, Morais, Akins (Rogers 88), Roberts, Freeman (Agyemang 46), N’Gala. Unused:- Day, Hills, Iro, Risser.
Attendance:- 4,324 (199)