JOE Mason’s hat-trick broke Millers’ hearts as Bolton Wanderers earned their first win of the season despite a brave effort from Steve Evans’s men.
Following their last-gasp draw at Bournemouth at the weekend, the Millers’ made two changes to their starting line-up with Ipswich loanee Anthony Wordsworth given an opportunity to stake a claim for a regular berth at the expense of Ben Pringle, who dropped to the bench.
Ex-Olympiakos striker Matt Derbyshire was also recalled to the starting eleven partnering Argentinian Luciano Becchio in a front two as club record signing Jonson Clarke-Harris made way for his inclusion.
The visitors’ settled quickly into the Roses clash and fine interplay involving Frazer Richardson and Wordsworth paved the way for Derbyshire to force a corner, which was cleared with a minimum of fuss.
At the other end, former Liverpool midfielder Jay Spearing fired a tantalising cross across the face of goal before Kari Arnason was well-placed to divert Craig Davies’ cross-cum-shot to safety moments later.
From the resultant corner, Spearing’s quick thinking saw Matt Mills ghost away from his marker to strike a goalbound volley which was bravely blocked by a retreating Millers’ defender.
Minutes later, Rotherham failed to deal with another Spearing corner and from the knockdown, Joe Mason fired a snap effort which whistled into the side netting following a slight deflection.
The Millers’ were looking for a foothold in the clash and they almost benefited from a stroke of luck when Paul Taylor’s free-kick was flicked on by a home defender and the ball almost fell invitingly for Arnason and Derbyshire at the far stick, but the ball narrowly evaded their advancing runs.
Moments later, Neil Danns dragged a shot harmlessly wide of the target before Taylor’s eye-of-a-needle pass presented Wordsworth with a shooting opportunity, who stung the palms of Andrew Lonergan with a drilled effort from distance.
Just past the half-hour mark, Mills was penalised for backing into Derbyshire on the edge of the box as he looked to shield possession and the Millers’ made them pay with the resultant free-kick.
With both Taylor and Wordsworth poised over the set-piece, it was the latter who stepped up to curl a delightful effort which sailed round the defensive wall before beating the outstretched hand of Lonergan to nestle in the far corner of the goal.
The home side looked visibly shaken by the setback but Danns broke away from his marker on halfway before striking a fierce effort which had Adam Collin nervously scurrying across goal as it whistled narrowly wide.
With half-time approaching, Spearing tried his luck from distance but the sting was taken out of his shot as Collin collected with ease.
Half-time:- Bolton Wanderers 0 Rotherham United 1
Following the restart, the home side were quick out of the blocks and a long hopeful punt forward saw Craig Davies’ cause mayhem in the visitors’ rearguard and Mason struck an instinctive effort which brought a superb reflex save from Collin, who parried the ball to safety.
Moments later, a long diagonal pass saw American international Tim Ream torment Joe Skarz to waltz into the box before firing a low drive which again brought the best out of the Rotherham stopper.
In a rare foray by the visitors, Steve Evans’ men came within a whisker of doubling their advantage when fine interplay paved the way for Taylor to leave Spearing in his wake before striking a rasping effort from distance which struck the outside of the post.
Just before the hour mark, Davies got the better of Arnason near the byline before playing a slide-rule pass across the box but Collin and Craig Morgan were well-stationed at the near post to snuff out the danger.
However, the visitors’ resistance was finally broken moments later when Wanderers got themselves back on level terms.
There looked little danger with the Lancashire side probing on the edge of the box but the Millers’ rearguard backed off and they were punished when Mason took aim from distance after controlling smartly to drill a superb effort which beat the outstretched of Collin to find the bottom corner of the goal.
The Millers’ responded superbly and sub Alex Revell fired an instinctive effort which was arrowing towards goal until Lonergan’s late intervention before Paul Green’s cross was diverted by Revell into the path of Derbyshire, who could only poke the ball into the grateful hands of Lonergan moments later.
With the game in the balance, sub Liam Feeney had a shot blocked by a retreating Millers’ defender before the visitors’ had faint appeals for a spot-kick when Morgan’s punt forward was controlled superbly by Clarke-Harris, who appeared to run out of space before being clattered by Lonergan near the touchline but referee Neil Swarbrick waved away visiting protests.
Moments later, a mix-up in the home rearguard presented Wordsworth with an opportunity to strike goalwards but he fluffed his lines with a scuffed effort.
With quarter an hour to go, home substitutes Lee Chung-Yong and Feeney almost combined smartly to put the Trotters’ ahead before Chung-Yong broke clear in the next phase of play whereby his dangerous cross was diverted to goal by Richardson but Collin spared his blushes with a smart save.
With the game on a knifeedge, the home side took the upper hand when Spearing curled a delightful outswinger which saw Mason climb highest to power a header which arrowed into the far corner of the goal beating the desperate jump of the defender stationed on the line.
However, the Millers’ were not to be outdone and they again showed great fighting spirit when Arnason’s cross was flicked on by Revell into the danger area and sub Jordan Bowery showed great composure to work a yard of space in the box before drilling an effort which fizzed into the goal as Lonergan was a helpless bystander.
However, Millers’ hearts were broken when the home side made the telling strike when Spearing’s free-kick was not dealt with decisively by Collin, whose weak punch only fell to the feet of Mason, who kept his nerve to fire the ball into the heart of the goal despite the attentions of Morgan on the line.
With time running out, there was further drama to come when Clarke-Harris was pushed on the edge of the box giving Wordsworth another free-kick opportunity in an inviting position.
The midfielder again struck a superb effort which was heading for the home goal but Mills showed fantastic awareness to retreat smartly to divert his goalbound effort away from goal.
Moments later, the Millers’ were caught short as they pushed bodies forward and Chung-Yong capitalised on Richardson’s error to advance menacingly towards goal but despite only having Collin to beat, his shooting boots deserted him as he screwed his effort wide.
In a see-saw battle, the game took another cruel twist for the Millers when good work saw Green in space on the right flank and his pinpoint cross saw Clarke-Harris execute a delicate chip which flew past Lonergan but his joy turned to despair as the assistant referee had flagged for offside.
The game was swinging end to end and Chung-Young’s superb pass gave Mason another chance to kill the game but Collin stood up tall to block his effort.
In a last-ditch attempt to salvage a point, Collin was ushered forward but following ping-pong in the visitors’ box, Collin was adjudged to have fouled Lonergan earning a yellow card in the process and see the Millers’ cross the Pennines empty-handed.
Full-time:- Bolton Wanderers 3 Rotherham United 2