ROTHERHAM UNITED suffered their first home defeat of their Championship campaign despite an impressive first-half display as they undone by a late double salvo from visitors Watford.
The Millers had the better of the first half proceedings and could count themselves unlucky not to be leading at the interval and as the game looked to be heading for a draw, sub Lloyd Dyer and Gabriele Munari broke home hearts with late strikes.
Following their hard-fought victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers at the weekend, the Millers’ made just one change to their winning line-up with Richie Smallwood returning to the Rotherham engine room at the expense of Chelsea loanee John Swift, who dropped to the substitutes’ bench.
The Middlesbrough midfielder, who was a key component of Rotherham’s promotion winning squad last term, was thrust immediately into the fray after putting pen to paper on an emergency loan with the Millers earlier in the day.
The home side had the first sight of goal when Paul Taylor cut inside from the left flank before playing a threaded ball into the advancing run of Alex Revell, who tried his luck from distance but he dragged his shot wide of the target.
Moments later, fine interplay involving Ben Pringle and Taylor paved the way for Paul Green to have a glimpse of goal but he was crowded out as he looked to shoot.
The home side were quick out of the blocks and after Juan Carlos Paredes was caught napping, Taylor was on his toes to steal possession before Pringle cut inside to fire a shot which stung the palms of visiting ‘keeper Heurelho Gomes.
In Watford’s first foray of note, Matej Vydra fluffed his lines after he blasted a free-kick over from an inviting position on the edge of the box as Lee Frecklington was penalised for bundling over Diego Fabbrini.
At the other end, the lively Taylor released Kirk Broadfoot on the right flank, who delivered a first-time cross which found Revell on the edge of the box, but the Millers’ targetman was unable to divert the ball goalwards.
The Millers' fans had their hearts in their mouths when Munari’s lofted pass was not dealt with decisively by Kari Arnason, whose weak backheader saw Troy Deeney get to the ball before ‘keeper Adam Collin, who appeared to flatten the highly-rated striker in the box but referee David Webb waved away visiting appeals for a spot-kick.
Just shy of the half-hour mark, fine interplay involving Taylor and Revell saw Pringle cut inside from the flank leaving Ikechi Anya in his wake before curling a delightful effort which had Gomes at full stretch as he parried the ball to safety.
Pringle turned provider in the next phase of play when his outswinging corner saw skipper Craig Morgan climb highest over a ruck of bodies but his towering header cleared the visitors’ crossbar.
Minutes later, Joe Skarz’s floated ball saw Taylor control expertly as he worked a yard of space on Gabriel Tamas before curling an effort which sailed narrowly over the bar.
With half-time approaching, the Millers came within a whisker of the breakthrough when Skarz’s delicate chip was flicked-on superbly by Revell into the path of Frecklington, who fired a skimming effort which was arrowing towards the bottom corner of the goal before Gomes made a fingertip save to turn the ball around the post.
Half-time:- Rotherham United 0 Watford 0
The home side started the second half as they finished the first when Broadfoot’s eye-of-a-needle pass found Pringle, who weighed up his options to pick out the unmarked Taylor, who blasted over with the goal at his mercy.
Minutes later, Arnason’s bullet-throw into the box saw Broadfoot climb highest but his header lacked power as it failed to trouble the visitors’ goal.
Morgan became the first to see yellow when he was penalised for halting Deeney in full flow before Republic of Ireland international Keith Andrews soon joined him in the book for a late tackle on his compatriot, Green.
Just past the hour mark, the home side had a scare when Watford broke with menace as Deeney found Anya, whose first time ball saw sub Odion Jude Ighalo get on the wrong side of his marker before poking the ball past the advancing Collin with his first touch of the ball, but any joy was curtailed by the offside flag, which had long been raised.
Moments later, Munari blazed a shot over the bar from distance before Rotherham countered superbly as a Revell header bisected the visitors’ rearguard and Frecklington’s hoick over the top saw sub Michael Tidser look to loop the ball over the head of Tamas, who hauled him down and was somewhat fortunate to only receive a yellow card.
From the resultant free-kick, Taylor failed to make the Hornets pay as he blasted over before the visitors’ made the decisive breakthrough with 17 minutes remaining.
There looked little danger until a threaded ball saw Ighalo one-on-one with a retreating defender just inside the box and after jinking inside, his left-footed effort forced Collin into taking evasive action and the ball squirmed invitingly into the path of fellow substitute, Lloyd Dyer, who made no mistake by firing into the roof of the net.
The home side responded bravely to the setback and following a period of pressure, Tidser’s clever pass gave Swift, a sight of goal and he curled a delightful effort which saw Gomes a helpless bystander as the ball narrowly cleared the crossbar.
The Millers had a lucky escape when Ighalo looked to be hauled down by Morgan as he looked to break clear in the box but the referee waved away his strong protests for a penalty before Smallwood became the next to see yellow for tripping Dyer in full flight.
With the game in the balance, Deeney showed his class when he fizzed an effort through a ruck of bodies which forced Collin into a reflex save before Rotherham’s frustration grew when Taylor curled an inviting free-kick into the danger area which bizarrely missed all home runners.
The visitors’ made sure of the three points when an incisive move saw Ighalo find Tommie Hoban in space near the byline and he breezed past Arnason despite the tightest of angles before playing a tantalising cross across the box which gave Munari the simple task of tapping home into the empty net from point-blank range.
With time running out, Taylor volleyed over from an acute angle after he latched onto Revell’s header as the Millers’ were left empty-handed despite an encouraging display.
Full-time:- Rotherham United 0 Watford 2
Teams:- Rotherham- Collin, Skarz, Arnason, Broadfoot, Frecklington (Swift 77), Revell, Green (Tidser 64), Pringle (Derbyshire 77), Morgan, Taylor, Smallwood. Unused:- Loach, Wood, Bowery, Newton.
Watford- Gomes, Munari, Angella, Andrews, Deeney, Carlos Paredes, Tamas, Fabbrini (Dyer 65), Vydra (Jude Ighalo 60), Anya (Tozser 79), Hoban. Unused:- Bond, Forestieri, Doyley, Abdi.
Referee:- David Webb.
Attendance:- 9361 (1088).