ROTHERHAM UNITED finished their regular League One campaign in style as they earned a hard-fought 2-1 victory over Swindon Town to bag fourth place.
The Millers booked a two-legged date with Preston North End in the end-of-season play-offs as a Wes Thomas brace was the catalyst for an impressive win in Wiltshire.
With one eye on the end-of-season play-offs, gaffer Steve Evans reshuffled the Millers pack with a number of changes to his starting line-up.
Richard Brindley was given an opportunity to get minutes under his belt in the right-back slot while Jamaican Claude Davis returned at the heart of the Millers’ rearguard as skipper Craig Morgan was named amongst the substitutes.
James Tavernier was pushed further forward on the right hand side of midfield while Thomas and Tom Hitchcock were given starts to press their claims for a play-off striking berth as Alex Revell and hot-shot Kieran Agard had to settle for places on the bench.
The Millers were quick out of the blocks and they stunned the home faithful by making the breakthrough with their first attack of note.
The home side failed to clear a Kari Arnason long-throw decisively and Tavernier’s threaded ball gave Thomas an opportunity to get a yard on his marker and the Bournemouth loanee made no mistake as he drilled a low shot from the edge of the box which beat the outstretched hand of Wes Foderingham before nestling into the far corner of the net.
The visitors were buoyed by the strike and Tavernier’s inviting free-kick had to be headed over by a retreating Jay McEveley before Rotherham had faint appeals for a spot-kick when Thomas appeared to be nudged over by Raphael Rossi-Blanco after a mix-up in the home defence but referee Dean Whitestone waved away visiting protests.
The home side were the architects of their own downfall when a loss of possession saw Tavernier broke clear on the right flank and his slide-rule ball almost fell kindly for Hitchcock, before stand-in skipper Lee Frecklington blazed over with the goal at his mercy.
Moments later, Hitchcock fired over from an acute angle before Rotherham deservedly doubled their advantage on 23 minutes.
The visitors counter-attacked with intent following the breakdown of play in the middle of the park and after Thomas found Ben Pringle in space on the left flank, the Millers’ playmaker waltzled to the edge of the box before curling a delightful centre which may have took a slight deflection and the ball found the head of Thomas, whose powerful header fizzed past Foderingham before creeping under the home crossbar.
Just before the half-hour mark, Swindon had their first foray of note when Louis Thompson fired a rasping effort over the bar after the Millers were caught napping following a quick corner routine before Arnason narrowly failed to meet a Pringle set-piece at the other end as the Icelandic international ghosted in the box unnoticed.
Moments later, the Millers breathed a huge sigh of relief when McEveley floated a delightful free-kick which saw Jack Stephens get on the wrong side of the visitors rearguard but his point-blank header was straight down the throat of Adam Collin.
With half-time approaching, the home side were appealing for a penalty when Nathan Bryne’s snap shot seemingly struck the arm of Arnason but the Millers defender escaped any further sanction.
Half-time:- Swindon Town 0 Rotherham United 2
Following the restart, the home side missed a gilt-edged chance to reduce the arrears when Michael Smith climbed highest to meet Bryne’s tantalising cross but his point-blank header was aimed straight into the grateful arms of Collin, who was well-stationed on his own line.
Minutes later, Smith was in the thick of the action when he connected with Jack Barthram’s inviting centre but again Collin was well-placed to snuff out the danger before the ex-Charlton striker raced clear moments later when the Rotherham defence split open, but his arrowed effort was superbly tipped round the post by the ex-Carlisle ‘keeper.
However, Swindon had the perfect opportunity to halve the deficit when Bryne’s pass saw Massimo Luongo power into the box before nudged over by Arnason and the referee had no hesitation in pointing to the spot.
Finally, Smith won his personal duel with Collin when he kept his nerve from the resultant penalty to send the Rotherham stopper the wrong way and slide the ball into the corner of the goal.
The home side were sniffing blood and Bryne’s mazy run and shot forced Collin into a smart save before McEveley smashed a rasping effort from 30 yards which cannoned against the crossbar with Collin a helpless bystander.
Minutes later, Brindley helped preserve the slender lead with a vital clearance at the back post following Smith’s dangerous header before Tavernier blazed a free kick well over the bar after sub Agard was flattened on the edge of the box.
Another home defensive mix-up almost presented Agard and sub Haris Vuckic with an open goal but a retreating defender put in a timely block before Tavernier scooped an effort over following a superb break from Agard.
The Millers’ withstood late pressure from the home side to finish the season with a flourish before turning their attentions to the play-offs next week.
Full-time:- Swindon Town 1 Rotherham United 2
Teams:- Swindon- Foderingham, Byrne, Luongo, McEveley (Jones 88), Waldon (Randall 72), Thompson, Barthram, Smith, Ross-Blanco, Gladwin (Barker 59), Stephens. Unused:- Belford, Freitas Reis, Storey, Da Costa.
Rotherham- Collin, Brindley, Skarz, Arnason, Davis, Frecklington, Milsom (O’Connor 64), Pringle, Thomas (Agard 46), Tavernier, Hitchcock (Vuckic 70) . Unused:- Shearer, Revell, Morgan, Walker.
Referee:- Dean Whitestone
Attendance:- 8618 (644).