CLAYTON Donaldson’s second-half strike proved the difference for Gary Rowett’s rejuvenated Birmingham City as they leapfrogged the Millers in the Championship table following the New York Stadium victory.
The Millers struggled to find their rhythm in the first-half and despite a better showing after the interval, Donaldson’s goal just after the hour mark saw the Blues remain unbeaten under Rowett’s stewardship and leave the Millers empty handed.
Following the international break, the Millers made two changes to their starting line-up since their last outing at Hillsborough as Icelandic international Kari Arnason made a welcome return to the heart of the Rotherham rearguard at the expense of Kirk Broadfoot, who had to settle for a place on the bench.
Ex-Oldham forward Jonson Clarke-Harris was also recalled to the starting eleven to partner Alex Revell upfront with Republic of Ireland international Paul Green the one to make way for his inclusion.
On the substitutes’ bench, Millers gaffer Steve Evans gave a shirt to Argentinian Emmanuel Ledesma, with the ink still wet after he put pen-to-paper on a loan deal from Middlesbrough.
The visitors were quick out of the blocks and they had the first sight of goal when home skipper Craig Morgan was adjudged to have nudged over Andrew Shinnie in an inviting position and from the resultant free-kick, Stephen Gleeson almost made the Millers pay with a curling free-kick which sailed over the home wall but was smartly parried to safety by Adam Collin, who correctly dived to his right to keep the ball out.
Despite a slow start by the Millers, they almost stunned the Blues with their first foray of note when a delightful clip over the top by Ben Pringle saw Clarke-Harris beat the offside trap to race menacingly towards goal but from an acute angle, he was unable to pull the ball back to the advancing home runners as Jonathan Grounds’ toe-poked the ball to safety.
At the other end, Shinnie’s snap shot from the edge of the box was bravely blocked by Morgan before Arnason’s bullet throw was cleverly flicked on by Revell into the path of Paul Taylor but the Ipswich loanee fluffed his lines with a tame shot which failed to trouble the visitors’ goal.
The home fans’ had their hearts in their mouths just past the quarter hour when smart work by Donaldson paved the way for Shinnie, to jink his way past the attentions of Morgan on the edge of the box before clipping a delightful effort which had Collin grasping at thin air as it cannoned against the upright.
The home side were riding their luck and moments later, a threaded ball saw Donaldson get on the wrong side of Morgan before showing the home skipper a clean pair of heels as he raced towards goal but Collin stood up tall to block his drilled effort.
The Blues were having a good spell and after Donaldson was hauled over just outside the box, Welsh international David Cotterill was the next to fire goalwards but the ex-Carlisle stopper was proving a vital last line of defence as he was well-positioned to punch the ball to safety.
Just before the half-hour, Revell fired a speculative effort from distance which took a deflection off Michael Morrison as it went behind before Taylor almost launched a spectacular counter attack for the home side but Paul Caddis was well-stationed to snuff out the threat.
Moments later, the Blues had Paul Robinson to thank for clearing the danger after Revell rose highest from another Arnason long-throw before Taylor’s low drive from the edge of the box was diverted to safety by Grounds en-route to goal.
At the other end, Richie Smallwood’s error presented Cotterill with a shooting opportunity which was deflected behind before Robinson headed wide from the resultant corner.
Minutes later, Taylor squandered an inviting shooting chance and the Blues counter attacked with purpose and with the Millers backtracking, Cotterill tried his luck with a rasping drive from distance which smashed against the home crossbar as Collin was a helpless bystander before the ball fortunately for the Millers bounced to safety.
With half-time approaching, Taylor almost made amends with a smart drive which was smothered by Darren Randolph before Donaldson’s weak header was comfortably gathered by Collin at the other end.
Half-time:- Rotherham United 0 Birmingham City 0
Following the restart, Ledesma was given the brief to breathe life into the Millers’ display and he almost made an immediate impact when his delicate cross saw Clarke-Harris nip infront of his marker but his weak header failed to trouble Randolph.
Minutes later, Revell almost took advantage of defensive hesitation by the visitors before Donaldson was inches away from converting Demarai Gray’s tantalising cross at the other end.
Clarke-Harris became the first to see yellow for hauling down Donaldson in full flow before Morgan led from the front as he threw his body in the way of a goalbound Shinnie strike in the next phase of play.
Moments later, Arnason became the next to incur the wrath of the referee after hauling back Donaldson on the edge of the box to see yellow before Birmingham made the decisive breakthrough just past the hour mark.
There looked little danger for the home side until Shinnie threaded a clever pass into the advancing run of Donaldson, who had ghosted away from Arnason and the ex-Brentford striker raced towards goal but although his powerful strike was parried at point-blank range by Collin, the ball fell back at the feet of the frontman, who picked himself up before shooting into the heart of the home goal to score at the second attempt.
Moments later, the Millers had a lucky escape when Morgan’s innocuous backpass saw Collin lose his footing but the home ‘keeper scuffed the ball away from the lurking Donaldson before the home side missed a gilt-edged chance to level matters with quarter an hour remaining.
Pringle floated a centre which saw sub Jordan Bowery to rise highest to head the ball back into the path of fellow sub Green, but despite having the goal at his mercy, he dragged his shot well wide of the target.
Moments later, Bowery was again in the thick of action as his clever cross gave Revell a glimpse of goal but under pressure from a retreating defender, he could only scoop an effort over.
With time running out, Cotterill’s drilled cross was misjudged by Arnason paving the way for sub Lee Novak to advance menacingly to the edge of the box before firing over harmlessly before Green rose highest from Frazer Richardson’s high centre but his looping header was comfortably collected by Randolph.
In the dying seconds, the Millers knew it was not going to be their day when Bowery smashed an effort over the bar as the Blues ran down the clock to record a crucial victory.
Full-time:- Rotherham United 0 Birmingham City 1
Teams:- Rotherham- Collin, Skarz, Arnason, Frecklington (Green 67), Revell, Richardson, Pringle, Morgan, Taylor (Ledesma 46), Clarke-Harris (Bowery 72), Smallwood. Unused:- Thompson, Broadfoot, Milsom, Derbyshire.
Birmingham- Randolph, Grounds, Robinson, Gleeson, Donaldson, Cotterill, Shinnie (Reilly 88), Davis, Morrison, Caddis, Gray (Novak 78). Unused:- Doyle, Eardley, Edgar, Shea, Arthur.
Referee:- Darren Bond
Attendance:- 10,937 (2,589).