ROTHERHAM UNITED earned their first victory in six league games as they put Roses rivals Blackburn Rovers to the sword following a barnstorming first-half display.
The Millers were quick out of blocks as Icelandic international Kari Arnason gave them the lead in the early stages before Luciano Becchio doubled their advantage on the half-hour mark following Jason Steele’s error.
Despite Rovers’ pressure in the second half, the Millers shut out Gary Bowyer’s men to notch their second home victory of the campaign.
Following their defeat at the hands of high-flying Ipswich Town at the weekend, Millers’ chief Steve Evans reshuffled his pack for the visit of the Lancastrians.
Last year’s number one Adam Collin was recalled between the sticks at the expense of Scott Loach while Kirk Broadfoot retained his place at the heart of the Millers’ rearguard despite club skipper Craig Morgan being available following his one-match suspension for accumulating five bookings.
Argentinian striker Becchio was handed an opportunity to build on his strike in the last home outing against Charlton Athletic while Ipswich loanee Paul Taylor was available once again after sitting out against his parent club.
The Millers had the first sight of goal when Shane Duffy was penalised for climbing over Alex Revell but the Rovers’ defender redeemed himself by snuffing out the danger following Ben Pringle’s inswinging free-kick.
Rovers’ skipper Grant Hanley became the first to see yellow early in the game as he floored Becchio, as the Norwich loanee looked to break clear.
From the resultant free-kick, Taylor’s free-kick was diverted behind but it was only a temporary reprieve for the visitors’ as the Millers’ took the lead on five minutes.
Following a period of pressure, Taylor flighted a corner into the visitors’ rearguard which was not cleared decisively by the Rovers’ rearguard and with no-one taking charge, Arnason pounced on the loose ball to fire a bobbling left-footed effort which beat the outstretched hand of Steele to find the bottom corner of the net.
The home side were buoyed by the breakthrough and with Rovers’ failing to deal with a bullet throw from Arnason, Lee Frecklington advanced with menace into the box but from an acute angle, he could only smash an effort into the side netting.
The home side were looking the most likely and after Taylor got the better of Duffy, he released Revell on the right flank, who swung a delightful centre which saw Becchio ghost away from his marker to plant a header which had Steele nervously scurrying across goal as it whistled narrowly past the upright.
In a rare foray by the visitors, Frecklington became the latest to incur the wrath of the referee after he tripped Chris Taylor following Hanley’s clever backheel to earn a caution before Ben Marshall curled the resultant free-kick around the home wall but Collin carefully marshalled the ball around the post.
The visitors were gradually grabbing a foothold in the game when Rudy Gestede headed wide following Craig Conway’s inviting centre but Rotherham stunned the visitors by doubling their advantage just past the half-hour mark.
There looked little danger when Pringle lost possession but the ex-Derby midfielder hounded Ryan Tunnicliffe as he looked to clear and after forcing the on-loan midfielder to roll the ball back to Steele, the visitors’ stopper fluffed his lines when he struck his attempted clearance against Becchio and the ball ricocheted into the heart of the unguarded goal.
The visitors responded immediately to the setback and Corry Evans had a fierce drive deflected wide before Marshall unsuccessfully tried his luck from distance.
However, the home side were sniffing blood with half-time approaching and Duffy became the next to see yellow for a mistimed tackle on Becchio and from the resultant free-kick, Taylor fizzed an effort which grazed the visitors’ upright with Steele looking on ominously.
Half-time:- Rotherham United 2 Blackburn Rovers 0
The visitors were quick out of the blocks in the second half and Taylor had a cross-cum-shot deflected behind before Collin had a stroke of luck when Hanley’s powerful point-blank header was straight down his throat of the ex-Carlisle stopper, who smothered the ball on his own line at the second attempt with Jordan Rhodes lerking menacingly.
Moments later, Rhodes almost sneaked in behind the home defence but Frazer Richardson halted his progress, maybe illegally as he looked to be pulled back with the ball in mid-air, but the referee waved away faint visiting protests for a spot-kick.
The visitors were piling on the pressure and Taylor had a fierce effort deflected wide of the target by a retreating defender before Luke Varney’s deft flick from Markus Olsson’s cross was comfortably collected by Collin.
Just before the hour mark, Rotherham had their hearts in their mouths when Olsson tumbled in the box following a tussle with Taylor but the referee refused to point to the spot.
Moments later, Evans was rightfully yellow-carded for cynically hauling down Revell in full flight on halfway before Becchio almost profited from a cute flick-on by Revell but his looping header failed to trouble the visitors’ goal.
Minutes later, Joe Skarz’s flighted ball into the channel saw Becchio nudge the ball into the path of Revell, who worked a yard of space on his marker before drilling an arrowed effort from distance which was rocketing into the top corner before Steele’s flying save parried the ball to safety.
With the game see-sawing from end-to-end, sub Josh King headed narrowly over following Marshall’s tantalising centre before Revell almost put the game to bed with a hoicked effort which shaved the upright after Morgan had planted the ball back into the danger area following Pringle’s corner.
The visitors knew it was not going to be their night when Olsson got the better of Richardson on the left flank to deliver a fizzing centre which missed all the advancing Rovers runners but fell perfectly into the path of Rhodes, who looked a certain scorer, but the Scotland international bizarrely failed to hit the target despite having the goal at his mercy.
At the other end, sub Anthony Wordsworth cut inside to strike a fierce effort which unluckily struck Becchio en-route to goal before Rhodes was crowded out as he looked to strike goalwards in Rovers’ next attack.
The visitors continued to press and the Millers’ had Pringle to thank for preserving their advantage when Duffy rose highest from Tunnicliffe’s centre to power a header which saw the ex-Derby midfielder smartly head clear from his own line before Rhodes’ acrobatic volley took a wicked deflection which almost wrongfooted Collin but the Rotherham ‘keeper had time to react to snuff out the danger.
In a rare break from the home side, Becchio almost capitalised on lax Rovers defending to force the ball home from an acute angle but Steele prevented the ball sneaking home at the near post before a superb last-ditch block from Richardson prevented Rhodes from halving the deficit at the other end.
With time running out, Rotherham almost put the icing on the cake on a memorable night when Frecklington’s superb cross paved the way for Wordsworth to head goalwards forcing Steele into a smart, reflex save before Becchio headed over from Green’s cross in the next phase of play.
Full-time:- Rotherham United 2 Blackburn Rovers 0
Teams:- Rotherham- Collin, Skarz, Arnason, Broadfoot (Morgan 10), Frecklington, Revell (Bowery 83), Green, Richardson, Pringle, Becchio, Taylor (Wordsworth 60). Unused:- Loach, Hall, Derbyshire, Clarke-Harris.
Blackburn- Steele, Hanley, Rhodes, Marshall, Olsson, Taylor (Henley 76), Duffy, Tunnicliffe, Evans, Conway (King 46), Gestede (Varney 32). Unused:- Eastwood, Kilgallon, Williamson, Songo’o.
Referee:- S Hooper
Attendance:- 9525 (1305).