ROTHERHAM UNITED earned their third win in a row to keep the heat on the League Two automatic promotion challengers thanks to a brave 2-0 victory over fellow chasers Bradford City.
In a red-hot atmosphere at the Coral Windows Stadium, the Millers’ held their nerve in the face of a home barrage to edge a tense encounter thanks to Lee Frecklington’s late penalty and Kieran Agard’s breakaway goal.
Following their hard-fought victory over Fleetwood Town at the weekend, Steve Evans made just two changes to the starting line-up with Claude Davis returning at the heart of defence at the expense of the injured Daniel Nardiello as Icelandic international Kari Arnason reverted to his favoured central midfield berth.
Following recent substitute cameos, Freckington also returned to the starting eleven in favour of David Noble.
The home side were quick out of the blocks and a fine one-two involving James Meredith and Kyel Reid saw the former play a cut back into the danger area before Arnason cleared behind.
From the resultant corner, the Millers’ were given a scare when Gary Jones’ tantalising corner was met by the head of James Hanson, who towered above Davis before heading into the roof of the net but his joy was shortlived as referee Mark Haywood adjudged he had climbed above the Jamaican illegally.
Moments later, after Craig Morgan bundled over Nahki Wells, Jones curled another delightful free-kick which saw Davis almost divert the ball into his own net before Reid curled an inswinger in the next phase of play which forced Scott Shearer to palm the ball away under pressure.
In their first foray of note, Agard led a swift Rotherham counter and after ghosting past Rory McArdle, his pass paved the way for Frecklington to strike goalwards but his shot was blocked by a well-stationed defender.
The home side were forced into a defensive reshuffle as Andrew Davies was forced off with injury which saw Michael Nelson taking his central defensive berth before Wells saw yellow for a crunching tackle on Michael O’Connor.
Moments later, Arnason joined him in the referee’s notebook for a barge on Reid before Bradford came within a whisker of the opener.
Following a swift counter, Jones showed the Rotherham midfield a quick pair of heels before playing a timely pass into the stride of Garry Thompson, who calmly stroked the ball into the bottom corner of the goal but to Rotherham’s relief, the offside flag curtailed any celebrations.
At the other end, Rotherham attacked with menace and Ben Pringle curled a delightful centre which saw Alex Revell climb above his marker before powering a header goalwards but Jon McLaughlin was guarding his near post and smothered the ball to safety.
With half-time approaching, Bantams assistant Steve Parkin was sent to the stands following a show of dissent before Rotherham hopes were dealt a blow when influential midfielder O’Connor was forced off with injury following a collision.
In stoppage time, Jones fired a controlled volley from the edge of the box which stung the palms of Shearer before Morgan produced a brave header under pressure to keep the scores level at the interval.
Half-time:- Bradford City 0 Rotherham United 0
Following the restart, the home side had the first sight of goal when Thompson turned and fired a rising effort from the edge of the box which cleared the crossbar.
At the other end, Joe Skarz fizzed a ball down the touchline which found Pringle, whose first time cross almost saw Revell sneak in between defender and ‘keeper, but the ball dribbled wide of the target.
Morgan became the latest to see yellow for tripping Wells before Thompson fired a dipping volley from distance which had Shearer nervously looking over his shoulder.
With the game in the balance, Revell hoicked an effort over after Morgan climbed highest from a Pringle delivery before Arnason drilled a skimming free-kick through a ruck of bodies but McLaughlin saved smartly.
A lightning counter from the Millers almost gave Frecklington a glimpse of goal before skipper Johnny Mullins was the quickest to react from an Arnason centre but his tame header failed to trouble the target.
However, the Millers were given a perfect opportunity to snatch the points with eleven minutes remaining.
A long punt forward from Shearer saw Revell challenge with Nelson and the ball appeared to strike the arm of the visitors’ defender as the ball fell from the air and the referee controversially pointed to the spot.
Frecklington kept his composure from the resultant penalty to calmly stroke the ball into the bottom corner of the net before celebrating with the hordes of Rotherham fans behind the goal.
The home side responded well and Wells headed over from Stephen Darby’s centre before Skarz put his body on the line to block a Thompson piledriver minutes later.
With time running out, Reid fizzed a dangerous cross-cum-shot across the box before the Millers’ had the hearts’ in their mouths when Alan Connell was the quickest to react from a long punt forward but he missed a guilt edged chance when he fired over with the goal at his mercy.
However, the Millers’ compounded the home misery in the latter seconds with a great breakaway.
With McLaughlin joining the home ranks upfield, the Millers’ cleared Reid’s corner successfully and in a bizarre couple of seconds, the ball found Agard, who showed the chasing pack, including McLaughlin, a clean pair of heels and the frontman eased the ball towards the goal, before rolling the ball into the empty net.
Full-time:- Bradford City 0 Rotherham United 2
Bradford:- McLaughlin, Darby (Connell 82), Meredith (McHugh 50), Ravenhill, Davies (Nelson 26), Reid, Hanson, Thompson, Jones, Wells, McArdle. Unused:- Duke, Atkinson, Hines, Doyle
Rotherham:- Shearer, Davis, Arnason, Mullins, Revell, O’Connor (Rose 44), Pringle, Morgan, Agard, Frecklington, Skarz. Unused:- Warrington, Tonge, Ainsworth, Odejayi, Ridehalgh.
Referee:- Mark Haywood
Attendance:- 13,467 (1710)