ROTHERHAM UNITED breathed new life into their League Two promotion push following a convincing display against fellow play-off chasers Exeter City.
The Millers’ made the perfect start when Ben Pringle netted after just two minutes before further strikes from Daniel Nardiello and Michael O’Connor put the home side in charge at the interval.
Craig Morgan added a fourth in the second period before Exeter grabbed a late consolation near the end.
Following their last-minute reversal at the hands of Morecambe at the weekend, Steve Evans reshuffled the pack with Dale Tonge replacing the injured Mark Bradley at full-back and Icelandic international Kari Arnason being drafted into the back-four with Johnny Mullins serving a suspension following his red-card on Saturday.
Leading scorer Nardiello was recalled to the starting line-up as Lionel Ainsworth dropped to the bench and the ex-Shrewsbury winger was joined by Lee Frecklington, who had been struggling with a virus.
The Millers’ were quick out of blocks and they stunned the visitors by breaking the deadlock on 62 seconds.
Following an attempted switch of play by the visitors, Pringle cleverly intercepted on halfway before advancing to the visitors’ box with menace.
With the Exeter defenders backtracking, the ex-Derby winger unleashed a skimming drive from distance which beat the outstretched hand of Artur Krysiak before nestling into the bottom corner of the goal.
The home side were buoyed by the breakthrough and after Pat Baldwin hauled down Kieran Agard on the edge of the box following a fine-flowing move, Pringle fired a tame free-kick which was cleared with ease by the visitors.
Moments later, O’Connor swung a tantalising corner which had Krysiak flapping before Aaron Lawson turned the ball towards his own goal but to his relief, it rolled wide of the target.
In Exeter’s first foray of note, Craig Woodman stung the palms of Scott Shearer with a fierce drive before Rotherham launched a quick counter-attack led by Agard, but following swift passes involving O’Connor and Nardiello, Agard fluffed his lines when he screwed his shot wide from a promising position.
Minutes later, Agard released Tonge, whose pinpoint cross found the head of Nardiello, but Krysiak was on-hand to punch clear his looping header despite being under pressure from Alex Revell before Mark Molesley fired over at the other end.
In the next phase of play, Morgan was the first to an O’Connor free-kick and the ball fell invitingly for Agard, but as he looked to slot home, a retreating defender managed to block his point-blank effort.
The Millers were looking the most likely and it was no surprise when they doubled their lead on 28 minutes.
There looked little danger on the left flank but Nardiello injected pace into the move and a quick one-two with Pringle saw the striker bear down on goal and after shrugging off the attentions of his marker he coolly slotted past the advancing Krysiak.
The Millers were running riot and they shellshocked the visitors when they added a third just minutes later.
Following a quick counter, Pringle arrowed an hopeful ball into the box and after only being half-cleared, O’Connor pounced on the loose ball to unleash a fantastic strike from 25 yards which took a slight deflection of a retreating defender and Krysiak was wrong-footed as he helplessly saw the ball find its way into the heart of the goal.
With half-time approaching, Tonge launched a superb diagonal which gave Nardiello a glimpse of goal but he failed to connect properly as he screwed his effort well wide.
Half-time:- Rotherham United 3 Exeter City 0
Despite the visitors’ making a double half-time substitution, the Millers’ started the second stanza as they finished the first half as they added a fourth on 52 minutes.
O’Connor delivered a deep free-kick which saw Morgan being beaten to the challenge by a visitors’ defender but the ball ballooned into the air and Nardiello showed great awareness to head the ball back into the danger area and despite evading Revell, Morgan made no mistake at the second time of asking as he smashed the ball home from point-blank range.
Just past the hour mark, with Joe Skarz on the overlap diverting attention, O’Connor floated a superb cross which almost released Nardiello, but the former Grecian failed to get the ball under his spell.
In a rare visitors’ breakaway, Lawson D’Ath failed to trouble Shearer with a speculative effort from distance before sub John O’Flynn saw yellow for a late lunge on Arnason.
However, the visitors were rewarded for their efforts near the end when Arron Davies’ outswinging corner was met by the head of Danny Coles, whose downward header from point-blank range seemingly crossed the line despite striking the arm of Pringle on the goalline.
Despite initial confusion, the referee awarded the goal and possibly spared Pringle any further action for his instinctive reaction.
Full-time:- Rotherham United 4 Exeter City 1
Rotherham- Shearer, Tonge, Morgan, Arnason, Skarz, Agard (Ainsworth 73), O’Connor (Frecklington 83) Noble, Pringle, Nardiello, Revell (Odejayi 78).
Unused:- Warrington, Rose, Ridehalgh, Rowe
Exeter:- Krysiak, Woodman, Bennett, Baldwin, Coles, Davies, Cureton, Doherty (Rodgers 71), Dawson (O’Flynn 46), D’Ath, Molesley (Keohane 46).
Unused:- Bauza, Evans, Reid, Moore-Taylor.
Attendance:- 6703 (222)