ROTHERHAM UNITED defied the odds as they earned a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Port Vale, despite playing the whole of the second half with just ten men.
Steve Evans’ side were given a mountain to climb when Richard Smallwood saw red on the stroke of half-time but the Millers climbed to third in the League One table courtesy of Kieran Agard’s 25th goal of the season.
Following their ten goal thriller at Wolverhampton Wanderers on Good Friday, the Millers made two changes to their starting line-up with playmaker Ben Pringle returning to the side at the expense of Alex Revell, who dropped to the bench.
Bournemouth loanee Wes Thomas was also handed a rare start partnering Slovenian international Haris Vuckic upfront, as Molineux hat-trick star, Agard was given a well-deserved break with the end-of-season play-offs looming.
The home side were quick out of the blocks and Nicky Adams cleverly nutmegged Billy Knott before skipping menacingly to the byline to fizz a fierce cross which was cleared by a retreating Vale defender.
Minutes later, Rotherham countered quickly and Joe Skarz’s threaded ball found Vuckic, who controlled smartly before giving Adams a glimpse of goal, but the ex-Crawley winger blazed his effort over the bar from the edge of the box.
Just before the quarter hour, Skarz and Thomas combined smartly paving the way for James Tavernier to eye up a long distance effort but the Newcastle loanee failed to trouble Sam Johnson as he skied his shot well over.
However, the visitors almost broke the deadlock with their first foray of note when Jordan Hugill took advantage of a fine flowing move to dink a cross to the far post which was met by the advancing Chris Birchall, who fired a fierce volley which was blocked by the legs of Adam Collin.
At the other end, Thomas came within a whisker of making the breakthrough on two occasions when Adams’ eye-of-the-needle pass saw the frontman turn Chris Robertson smartly before curling an effort which was tipped over the bar by Johnson before the Vale ‘keeper was called into action from the resultant corner when Thomas climbed highest to meet Pringle’s centre but Johnson smartly parried his point-blank header narrowly over the bar.
Just shy of the half-hour mark, Birchall fired a tantalising centre which found Louis Dodds at the far post, who floated an inviting cross which saw Gavin Tomlin control smartly before dribbling a shot which rolled past the near post, but any joy would have been curtailed by the referee’s whistle.
Minutes later, Rotherham broke with menace and with the Vale defence at sixes and sevens, Pringle’s slide-ruled ball bisected the visitors’ rearguard paving the way for Tavernier to advance on goal before drilling a low effort which was diverted to safety by the legs of Johnson.
With neither side asserting their authority, Adams cut inside to curl a delightful centre which narrowly missed the head of Thomas before Birchall’s bulldozing run took him past Kari Arnason at the other end but the Millers had skipper Craig Morgan to thank for a last-ditch sliding tackle as he looked to shoot goalwards.
With half-time approaching, Pringle’s perfectly weighted pass saw Smallwood fire a drilled effort which struck Thomas en-route to goal before the Middlesbrough midfielder pounced on the rebound to arrow another shot goalwards but Richard Duffy bravely threw himself infront of the ball to keep the scores level.
The game took a cruel twist for the home side in injury-time with Smallwood again in the thick of the action as he looked to block Knott’s clearance as Vale looked to counter but the loanee was high on the ball before making contact with the Vale midfielder and following consideration, referee David Coote brandished a red card to leave the Millers’ down to ten men.
Half-time:- Rotherham United 0 Port Vale 0
Despite their numerical disadvantage, the Millers almost stunned the visitors with their first attack of the half when Thomas took advantage of space on the left flank to clip a cross which saw sub Agard nip infront of his marker to glance a header, with his first touch, which flew across the face of goal.
Minutes later, Vale failed to clear a home corner decisively and Tavernier struck a fearsome half volley which cleared the bar before Dodds tried to thread a shot through a ruck of bodies following a quickly-taken free-kick at the other end, but his effort was blocked by the retreating home defence.
Just shy of the hour mark, Vale squandered a four-on-two opportunity as Arnason made a vital clearance as sub Ben Williamson failed to pick out his supporting colleagues before Carl Dickinson became the first to see yellow when he hauled down Agard.
The Vale skipper was fortunate to escape a second yellow seconds later with the home crowd baying for blood when he bundled over the ex-Yeovil striker again before Michael O’Connor joined him in the book following a late lunge on Adam Yates.
Millers’ chief Evans was throwing caution to the wind by sending Revell into the fray and his boldness almost paid immediate dividends when sub Rob Milsom curled a delightful centre onto the head of Revell, who carefully guided a downward header which was arrowing towards the bottom corner until Johnson’s late intervention.
With quarter an hour to go, Rotherham had Vale penned deep into their own box and Tavernier’s fizzed effort from an acute angle was deflected into the path of Agard, who worked a yard on his marker before driving goalwards but bizarrely Thomas blocked his shot as he couldn’t get out of the way.
However, the home side were rewarded for their pressure when they broke the deadlock with 11 minutes remaining.
There looked little danger when Skarz arrowed a centre from the left flank but the ball went over the head of the last defender and with both Thomas and Agard in the vicinity, it was the latter, who pounced on the loose ball and he kept his composure to slide the ball into the corner of the net.
The Millers were buoyed by the breakthrough and Tavernier twice almost doubled their advantage with a blockbuster from distance before his deflected free-kick narrowly cleared the visitors’ crossbar.
With Vale seemingly shellshocked, Revell dragged a shot narrowly wide of the target before Pringle was yellow-carded as he cynically hauled down Hugill as he initially dallied in possession.
The visitors almost made them pay from the resultant free-kick when Jennison Myrie-Williams skimmed a fierce effort which was parried over the top by Collin.
In the last play of the game, the Millers rode their luck when Chris Shuker floated a delightful centre which saw the home defence at sixes and sevens and Dickinson flashed a header which struck the upright before the ball was played back into the danger area and Robertson struck the ball goalwards but Skarz was well-stationed to block his effort, with the visitors’ vainly appealing for handball.
When the ball was cleared, the New York Stadium breathed a collective sigh of relief as the referee brought the proceedings to a close.
Full-time:- Rotherham United 1 Port Vale 0
Teams:- Rotherham- Collin, Tavernier, Arnason, Morgan, Skarz, Adams (Milsom 46), Smallwood, O’Connor (Revell 65), Pringle, Thomas, Vuckic (Agard 46). Unused:- Shearer, Davis, Addison, Hitchcock.
Port Vale- Johnson, Yates, Robertson, Dickinson, Dodds, Tomlin, Lloyd, Duffy (Williamson 51), Birchall (Myrie-Williams 71), Knott (Shuker 71), Hugill. Unused:- Griffith, Smith
Referee:- David Coote
Attendance:- 7743 (397).