ROTHERHAM UNITED earned their third successive victory in all competitions as they cruised to a comfortable 3-0 victory over Stevenage.
Ben Pringle’s third goal of the season gave the Millers the upper hand before the returning Claude Davis turned from villain following a nervy first half showing to hero as he doubled their lead with an unstoppable header.
Northern Ireland international Michael O’Connor put the icing on the cake with a stylish third as Millers returned to league action in fine style following cup victories over Bradford City and Hartlepool United.
Following their hard-earned JPT victory in the North East on Tuesday night, Steve Evans rang the changes for their trip to Hertfordshire.
Davis made a welcome return to the starting line-up following a lengthy injury absence at the expense of Pablo Mills with Kari Arnason still unavailable due to his international call-up with Iceland.
Pringle was recalled at the expense of Rob Milsom while fans favourite O’Connor returned to the Millers’ engine room following injury as Michael Tidser was named amongst the substitutes.
The home side were quick out of the blocks and after Davis was caught napping, former Millers’ trialist Francis Zoko advanced menacingly towards the edge of the box but he was crowded out before Lucas Akins’ deft flick failed to trouble Adam Collin in the next phase of play.
Moments later, Simon Heslop dragged a shot wide from the edge of the box as Davis failed to clear decisively and the Jamaican found himself in hot water moments later as he tripped Akins in full flight and was cautioned by the referee.
In the Millers first foray of note, O’Connor pounced on a home mistake to fire a rasping drive which was bravely blocked by Peter Hartley as it deflected wide for a corner.
However, the visitors stunned the home side by breaking the deadlock on 13 minutes.
Joe Skarz’s ball into the box was nodded into the danger area by Alex Revell and Kieran Agard looked a certain scorer but his point-blank header was saved by Chris Day but the ball rolled tantalisingly into the path of Pringle, who fired into the heart of the home goal.
The home side responded positively to the setback and following good work by Filipe Morais, Greg Tansey fired a rasping drive which had Collin nervously flying across goal as it whistled narrowly wide.
However, the Millers’ first came within a whisker of doubling their advantage when Pringle delivered a tantalising centre which was arrowed into the path of Agard, whose superbly executed flick had Day scrambling towards his own goal but the ex-Tottenham stopper parried the ball to safety.
Minutes later, the home side had another lucky escape when O’Connor’s flighted centre was cleverly flicked on skipper Craig Morgan forcing Day into a superb reflex save before Revell was inches away from stroking home the rebound.
Just past the half hour, Davis was walking a tightrope as he felled Morais but the referee refused to take further action before a fine flowing move from the visitors saw Revell pull the ball back into the advancing run of Agard, who stroked the ball home but any joy was immediately curtailed as the assistant referee had earlier flagged for offside.
With half-time approaching, O’Connor ran from the heart of midfield before striking a swerving drive from over 30 yards which Day smartly tipped over the bar.
Half-time:- Stevenage 0 Rotherham United 1
Following the restart, the home side were forced to replace the injured Day with sub ‘keeper Steve Arnold and he was called into immediate action when Stevenage failed to clear a Pringle corner decisively and O’Connor showed excellent technique to fire a volley from distance which was arrowing towards the top corner until Arnold’s late intervention.
Just shy of the hour mark, the Millers had Morgan to thank for preserving their slender lead when sub Bruno Andrade skipped past Skarz with a minimum of fuss before firing a dangerous cross which saw Morgan nip infront of Akins, to clear the danger despite looking second best originally.
The tackle proved critical moments later when Rotherham doubled their advantage.
Following a free-kick award in an inviting position, Pringle floated a delightful centre which teased Arnold to take charge, but the ‘keeper failed to make contact and the ball fell invitingly onto the head of Davis, who calmly headed into the unguarded net.
The visitors were sniffing blood and they caught the home side cold with a superb counter attack to add a third five minutes later.
After defending their own box, Rotherham turned defence into attack in the blink of an eye and Lee Frecklington clipped a clever ball which was knocked down by Revell into the path of O’Connor, who weighed up his options on the edge of box before striking a fierce effort from distance which beat the outstretched hand of Arnold before nestling into the corner of the net.
The game was effectively over as a contest but Andrade’s cross saw Collin misjudge the flight as it struck the crossbar before Michael Doughty stung the palms of the ex-Carlisle stopper with a low drive through a ruck of bodies moments later.
With quarter an hour to go, Heslop pounced on the loose ball before striking a rising effort from distance which forced Collin into a superb flying save before the visitors ‘keeper was called upon again when Luke Freeman cut inside from the byline to strike a low drive which was smothered smartly by the stopper.
The home side’s frustration was summed up when Jimmy Smith saw yellow for a late tackle on Pringle before Freeman ghosted into the box before dragging a shot narrowly wide of the target.
Full-time:- Stevenage 0 Rotherham United 3
Teams:- Stevenage- Day (Arnold 46), Jones, Morais (Tounkara 82), Akins, Zoko, Heslop, Freeman, Tansey (Andrade 46), Smith, Doughty, Hartley. Unused:- Wedgbury, Burrow, Parrett, Johnson.
Rotherham- Collin, Brindley, Skarz, Davis (Mills 85), Frecklington (Tidser 80), Revell, O’Connor (Milsom 79), Tubbs, Pringle, Morgan, Agard. Unused:- Shearer, Eaves, Rowe.
Referee:- James Linington