ROTHERHAM United will be looking anxiously over their shoulders at foot of the Championship table as fellow strugglers Wigan Athletic grabbed a vital narrow victory at the AESSEAL New York Stadium.
Ex-Liverpool and Birmingham winger Jermaine Pennant stunned the home fans with a free-kick brace from almost identical positions and although Matt Derbyshire gave Steve Evans’ men hope just before half-time, the Latics held firm to breathe life into their relegation battle.
Following their eye-catching victory over Huddersfield Town last time out, the Millers made just one change to their starting line-up with Paul Green returning to the home engine room as Lee Frecklington was unavailable due to his sending off at the John Smith’s Stadium.
Derby loanee Farrend Rawson was rewarded for his impressive Millers’ debut in West Yorkshire as he retained his place at the heart of the home rearguard with club skipper Craig Morgan having to be content with a substitutes berth as Icelandic international Kari Arnason continued his stint in midfield.
The home side were quick out of the blocks and Ben Pringle and Green combined to great effect and the latter swung a tantalising cross which forced Gaetan Bong to turn the ball behind at the far post before Green released Matt Derbyshire in the right channel in the home side’s next attack, but his cross was half-cleared by Harry Maguire before Ali Al Habsi punched the ball clear under pressure from advancing home runners.
Minutes later, Green was again in the thick of the action as he latched onto Maguire’s weak clearance to fire a snap shot from the edge of the box which flew harmlessly wide of the target before the box-to-box midfielder ghosted into the box to meet Pringle’s inviting centre but his bullet header failed to trouble the visitors goal.
Just past the quarter hour, quick thinking from Arnason, who feigned a long throw to find Richie Smallwood in space, paved the way for the ex-Middlesbrough midfielder to fire a dipping half-volley from distance which blazed harmlessly wide of the target before James McClean had the visitors’ first effort of note when he screwed a shot well wide following Pennant’s pull-back.
Minutes later, Liverpool loanee Sheyi Oyo breezed past the attentions of Jack Hunt and Conor Sammon to drill a dangerous centre across the face of the home goal before there was a moment of controversy when McClean tumbled under the challenge of Kirk Broadfoot on the edge of the box which saw referee James Linnington award a free-kick but the Scottish international protested his innocence accusing the Wigan winger of simulation.
With both players booked in the ensuing mele which followed, there was a further sting in the tail for the Millers when from the resultant free-kick, Pennant curled a delightful effort which sailed over the defensive wall and with Adam Collin rooted to his spot, the ball found the heart of the home goal.
The visitors were visibly lifted by the breakthrough and bizarrely the Millers fell victim to a carbon-copy goal minutes later.
After Marc-Antoine Fortune was clipped on the edge of the box, the ex-Liverpool winger weighed up his options from a similar position to his first strike and despite Collin taking a more central position in his goal, Pennant struck a superb effort which deceived the home stopper as it arrowed into the far corner of the goal this time to double the Latics advantage.
The Millers needed a couple of minutes to clear their heads and with half-time approaching, Hunt’s marauding run gave Green a glimpse of goal and his fiercely struck effort on the half turn shaved the upright before the home side got themselves back in the game on the stroke of half time.
After Pringle’s initial corner was half-cleared by the visitors, Smallwood showed composure to return the ball back into the path of the Millers’ playmaker, who clipped a delicate cross back into the danger area and Derbyshire emerged from a ruck of bodies to rise highest and plant a downward header which found the bottom corner of the net.
Half-time:- Rotherham United 1 Wigan Athletic 2
The home side started the second half on the front foot and Green had a snap shot blocked by a retreating defender before Hunt’s tantalising centre was inches away from a number of home runners.
Just before the hour mark, fine one-touch football from the Millers penned Athletic deep and Hunt curled a superb centre which saw Burnley loanee Daniel Lafferty sneak around the back but agonisingly, he failed to make a clean contact with the goal gaping as he could only stab the ball harmlessly wide of the target.
In the Millers next attack, Sammon’s inviting centre was fortuitously cleared by a visiting defender before Pringle’s inswinging free-kick saw Arnason emerge from the masses to power a header which was straight down the throat of Al Habsi.
With the Latics intent of holding onto their slender lead, Pringle swung an inviting centre which was headed clear into the path of Arnason, who struck a rasping volley from the edge of the box but it failed to trouble Al Habsi as it flashed into the home faithful.
Minutes later, Derbyshire’s mazy run had Athletic backtracking into their own box before the ex-Olympiakos striker showed great awareness to pick out sub Jordan Bowery, but he fluffed his lines with a wayward effort.
In a rare foray from the visitors, sub William Kvist made something out of nothing to poke an effort from the edge of the box which took a wicked deflection forcing Collin to show fleet of foot to palm the ball over his own bar.
With time running out, the Millers missed a gilt-edged chance to level matters when Lafferty’s incisive centre was inch-perfect for Bowery, who guided his header wide of Al Habsi, who made a superb save to his left and the ball tantasingly fell back to the ex-Villa striker, who looked a certain scorer but the Athletic ‘keeper showed great reflexes to keep him out for a second time before the ball was scrambled clear by the visitors’ defence.
In injury-time, Farrend Rawson headed over with the home side’s last chance of note as Malky Mackay’s side successfully ran down the clock to condemn the Millers to defeat.
Full-time:- Rotherham United 1 Wigan Athletic 2
Rotherham- Collin, Lafferty, Arnason, Broadfoot, Green (Hammill 54), Pringle, Sammon (Bowery 74), Derbyshire, Hunt, Rawson, Smallwood (Newton 87). Unused:- Thompson, Milsom, Richardson, Morgan.
Wigan: Al Habsi, Maguire, McClean, Pennant (Cowie 76), Bo-Kyung, Boyce, Ojo (Kvist 62), Bong, Perch, Pearce, Fortune. Unused:- Nicholls, McCann, McKay, Barnett, Waghorn.
Referee:- James Linnington