TWO wonder-strikes from James Tavernier maintained Rotherham United’s faint automatic promotion hopes as they secured a hard-fought 2-1 victory over mid-table Bristol City.
The Newcastle loanee gave the Millers a perfect start when he struck a fantastic effort after just two minutes before Wade Elliott pegged back the high-flying home side with a well-taken effort just after the restart.
However, the Millers were not to be outdone as Tavernier took advantage of Frankie Fielding’s misjudgement to blast home his second from a free kick as Steve Evans’ men extended their unbeaten run to 15 games and cut the deficit to second-placed Brentford to five points.
Following their impressive back-to-back victories over promotion rivals Peterborough United and Brentford, Millers’ chief Evans kept faith with his starting line-up for the third successive match with Nicky Adams retaining his place on the right-hand side of midfield following his starring performance against the Bees while hot-shot Kieran Agard was looking to maintain his scoring touch after reaching the twenty goal mark for the season with his brace against the Londoners in midweek.
The Millers were quick out of the blocks and they stunned the visitors by breaking the deadlock after just two minutes.
After Greg Cunningham had hauled down Adams in full flow, Ben Pringle swung over a tantalising free-kick which was only half-cleared by the City defence and Richard Smallwood played the ball into the run of Tavernier, who advanced menacingly towards the visitors’ box before striking a fantastic effort from distance which flew past a ruck of bodies before beating the outstretched hand of Fielding to find the inside of the net.
The home side were buoyed by the breakthrough and Lee Frecklington had a snap shot from the edge of the box which was blocked by a retreating Derrick Williams before the Millers had faint appeals for a spot kick when Adams’ hooked cross seemed the strike the raised hands of Karleigh Osborne but the referee waved away home protests.
The Millers were looking the most likely and following a fine flowing move which saw Frecklington switch the play superbly, Adams floated an inviting cross which saw Agard jostle with his marker, but the ex-Yeovil striker could not divert his header goalwards as it flew harmlessly wide of the target.
Minutes later, Rotherham turned defence into attack with the blink of an eye with Adams running hard at the City rearguard and after working a yard of space on Elliott, he floated a delicate cross which narrowly evaded the home runners before Fielding took a smart catch to snuff out the danger.
On the half-hour mark, Rotherham led a cavalry charge towards the City goal and the ball was played into the path of Agard, who left Williams in his wake before playing a slide-ruled ball across the box to give Smallwood a sight of goal, but his tame effort failed to trouble Fielding.
The Millers came within a whisker of doubling their advantage when Pringle’s eye-of-a-needle pass released Agard, who refused the calls of Adams on the right flank, to jink his way past Osborne on the edge of the box before driving his shot narrowly past the far post.
Cunningham became the first to see yellow when he cynically hauled down Alex Revell as the home side looked to counter quickly but he was the architect of City’s first foray of note when he cleverly ghosted past Tavernier before floating a tantalising cross which narrowly evaded the on-rushing Scott Wagstaff.
With half-time approaching, Agard and Pringle combined smartly paving the way for the former to clip a delicate effort from the edge of the box which narrowly cleared the visitors’ crossbar before Martin Paterson showed fleet of foot to work a shooting position in stoppage time but his curled effort failed to trouble Adam Collin.
Half-time:- Rotherham United 1 Bristol City 0
Despite the Millers’ first-half dominance, City stunned the home faithful by equalising on 48 minutes with the first attack of note in the half.
There looked little danger when Elliott picked up possession but he gave Frecklington the slip with a clever sidestep before running hard at the Rotherham defence and although Smallwood attempted vainly to get a last-ditch block, the ex-Burnley midfielder unleashed a rasping drive which arrowed into the far corner of the net giving Collin no chance.
The home side responded bravely to the setback and Pringle stung the palms of Fielding with a snap shot before the visitors’ keeper was penalised for stepping outside his penalty box from the resultant clearance.
The ‘keeper escaped action from the referee but the Millers made City pay to the full from the following free-kick when Tavernier took one step before firing a fantastic shot from the edge of the box which was like a tracer-bullet as it arrowed into the corner of the net giving the visitors’ keeper no chance.
Just past the hour mark, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas skipped past Joe Skarz to reach the byline and although his drilled cross beat Collin, skipper Craig Morgan was on-hand to blast the ball clear before Kari Arnason almost diverted Sam Baldock’s cross goalwards but fortunately for the Millers, the ball struck the side netting.
Moments later, Williams tried an opportunist effort from just inside the Millers’ half which almost embarrassed Collin as it sailed narrowly over the bar before Simon Gillett was the next to see yellow when he cynically upended Agard in full flight as he looked to launch a home counter.
The Millers came close to sealing the deal when City failed to clear a Pringle corner and Agard planted the ball into the danger area where Arnason looked to steer the ball home from point-blank range but his close range shot was blocked by a well-stationed visitors’ defender.
The game was in the balance and following a period of visitors’ pressure, Emmanuel-Thomas had home pulses racing when he fired a rising effort from distance which narrowly cleared the home crossbar before City boss Steve Cotterill made a triple substitution in a last-ditch bid to get back on level terms.
Tavernier had to be on his guard at the far post to snuff out Elliott’s inviting cross before Collin juggled Williams’ skimming drive from distance but the ex-Carlisle stopper collected at the second attempt.
Full-time:- Rotherham United 2 Bristol City 1
Teams:- Rotherham- Collin, Tavernier, Arnason, Morgan, Skarz, Adams (Milsom 88), Smallwood, Frecklington, Pringle (Vuckic 80), Revell (Davis 89), Agard. Unused:- Shearer, O’Connor, Addison, Hitchcock.
Bristol City- Fielding, Williams, Osborne, Cunningham (El-Abd 83), Wagstaff, Elliott, Baldock, Emmanual-Thomas (Pack 83), Gillett, Nosworthy, Paterson (Barnett 83). Unused:- Richards, Moloney, Pearson, Burns.
Referee:- G Ward
Attendance:- 8607 (743).