ROTHERHAM UNITED slipped to their first defeat in six games as they fell victim to Middlesbrough’s first-half blitz.
Strikes from Chelsea loanee Patrick Bamford and Dutch winger Yanic Wildschut in the opening twenty minutes put the Teessiders in charge and the Millers’ cause was not helped when substitute Jordan Bowery harshly saw red on the half-hour mark.
Despite their numerical disadvantage, the Millers’ put in a spirited second-half display as sub Matt Derbyshire struck the woodwork but sub Lee Tomlin put the game to bed with a well-taken third near the end.
Following their hard-fought draw at Brighton last time out, the Millers’ made two changes to their starting line-up for the visit of Aitor Karanka’s high-flying outfit.
The first change was an enforced one for Millers’ gaffer Steve Evans’ as Scottish international Kirk Broadfoot replaced Joe Skarz, who was ruled out after picking up his fifth booking of the season at the Amex.
Jonson Clarke-Harris was also recalled to the Millers’ strikeforce as Bowery had to settle for a place on the substitutes’ bench with Paul Taylor employed in a more withdrawn midfield role.
The Millers’ were quick out of the blocks and following a fast-flowing move from kick-off, Ben Pringle swung an instinctive centre which was slightly too high for Clarke-Harris, as his header screwed harmlessly wide of the target.
Despite the home side’s strong start, the visitors’ stunned the Millers’ faithful by breaking the deadlock with their first foray of note.
There looked little danger when a hopeful ball into the box saw Paul Green well-stationed on the edge of the box but the Irish midfielder seemingly lost his footing as he looked to clear and Bamford pounced on the loose ball to strike a left-footed drive which arched away from the outstretched hand of Adam Collin, who seemed to parry the ball en-route to goal as it found the bottom corner.
The home side responded positively to the setback and George Friend was forced to plant Pringle’s incisive corner behind and in the next phase of play, Taylor fired a deep corner which saw Broadfoot rise highest but he couldn’t control his header as it blazed over the bar.
Despite Rotherham’s best efforts, the visitors’ took a stranglehold on the clash by doubling their lead on 19 minutes.
Following promptings in and around the home box with former Millers’ loanee Grant Leadbitter one of the orchestrators’, Wildschut showed fleet of foot to jink past the attentions of his marker on the edge of the box before firing an emphatic shot which arrowed into the roof of the net giving Collin no chance.
The Millers’ miserable start to the game took another cruel twist when Alex Revell was helped down the tunnel after he had lengthy treatment following an awkward fall as Bowery entered the fray for the ex-Orient frontman.
However, Bowery’s participation in the clash lasted only a matter of minutes in an incident which brought a chorus of boos from the home faithful.
Following some neat passing from the home side, Bowery was adjudged harshly to have nudged over a retreating defender as he looked to race down the right flank as the assistant referee flagged for a foul.
With play continuing, Friend got his body between Bowery and the ball and the ex-Villa striker appeared to bring down his foot on the visiting defender and following consultation between the referee and the linesman, Mike Russell had no hesitation in brandishing the red card.
Moments later, Middlesbrough wasted two gilt-edged opportunities to effectively seal the deal when fine interplay involving Bamford and Wildschut saw the latter fizz an incisive centre which saw Kike ghost infront of his marker before blasting over with the goal at his mercy before the Spanish striker had his head in his hands again moments later when another rampaging run by Wildschut had the home defence at sixes and sevens before the bell fell kindly for him, but he again fluffed his lines with a rash strike.
The Millers’ were struggling to clear their heads and Friend flashed a right-footed effort wide of the target before Collin was scrambling across goal nervously as Leadbitter’s low drive took a wicked deflection off Green but the ball curled narrowly wide of the home goal.
Half-time:- Rotherham United 0 Middlesbrough 2
Following the restart, Evans’ threw caution to the wind by bringing Derbyshire into the fray to partner Clarke-Harris in a front-two while ‘Boro old boy Richie Smallwood was given a chance to impress against his former employers.
The Millers’ started the half strongly and they were almost rewarded for their efforts when Lee Frecklington shrugged off the attentions of Adam Clayton before drilling a low effort which had Dimitrios Konstantopoulos at full stretch before Clarke-Harris was narrowly off target in the next phase of play.
At the other end, Kike was having a personal duel with Collin as he firstly smashed a fierce effort which was parried by the ex-Carlisle ‘keeper before he waltzed past Craig Morgan moments later to drill a left-footed effort from the edge of the box which was smothered by the home stopper.
Moments later, the breakdown of a visitors’ attack saw Green yellow-carded for a foul in the build-up before Rotherham failed to clear decisively moments later and as the ball pinged around the box, Daniel Ayala instinctively stabbed goalwards but fortunately for the Millers, the ball whistled past the upright.
Just past the hour mark, Widschut again terrorised the home defence with a marauding run and cross which narrowly evaded the outstretched foot of Bamford before Clarke-Harris became the next to see yellow for upending Friend in full flow.
The visitors’ were sniffing blood and after some neat interplay, Adam Reach ghosted past the attentions of Frazer Richardson to drill a low effort which was arrowing towards the bottom corner of the goal but Kari Arnason was well-positioned to snuff out the danger.
With quarter an hour to go, Arnason’s bullet throw caused havoc in the visitors’ defence before Wildschut again got behind the Millers’ rearguard to plant a tantalising cross which saw sub Jelle Vossen strike wide when he should have done better.
With time running out, the Millers’ knew it wasn’t going to be their day when a fortunate ricochet fell invitingly for Derbyshire, who showed the visitors’ defence a clean pair of heels but with just Konstantopoulos to beat, he gave the Greek ‘keeper the eyes as he tried to thread the ball in at the near post but his effort smashed the outside of the upright.
The visitors’ capped a professional display in the latter stages when fine interplay paved the way for sub Tomlin to jink his way past a number of home defenders’ on the edge of the box before drilling a low effort which was threaded through the legs of a home defender and with Collin caught off-balance, the ball rolled tantalisingly into the heart of the Millers’ goal.
Full-time:- Rotherham United 0 Middlesbrough 3
Teams:- Rotherham- Collin, Arnason, Broadfoot, Frecklington, Revell (Bowery 25), Green, Richardson, Pringle (Derbyshire 46), Morgan, Taylor (Smallwood 46), Clarke-Harris. Unused:- Loach, Hall, Milsom, Swift.
Middlesbrough- Konstantopoulos, Friend (Husband 89), Ayala, Gibson, Leadbitter, Clayton, Kike (Tomlin 60), Reach, Bamford (Vossen 73), Ensue, Wildschut. Unused:- Mejias, Fredericks, Whitehead, Veljkovic
Referee:- Mike Russell
Attendance:- 11282 (2618).