ROTHERHAM UNITED took a major step towards Championship survival as they edged a vital 1-0 victory over Brighton and Hove Albion thanks to Matt Derbyshire’s eighth goal of the season.
The Millers opened a seven-point gap between themselves and Millwall, who command the third relegation place, following the victory earned thanks to Derbyshire’s first-half strike with just five games to go.
Following their Good Friday defeat at the hands of Birmingham City, the Millers rang the changes for their hosting of Chris Hughton’s Brighton and Hove Albion.
Derby youngster Farrend Rawson returned at the heart of the Millers defence at the expense of club skipper Craig Morgan, who was ruled out because of suspension after accumulating ten bookings for the season.
Icelandic international Kari Arnason made a welcome return to the fold to the Millers engine room after his two-match suspension as Lee Frecklington had to settle for a substitutes berth while Paul Green took the skipper armband as Charlton loanee Lawrie Wilson was not part of the matchday squad.
Gaffer Steve Evans also reshuffled his attacking options as Jordan Bowery was handed an opportunity to impress partnering St Andrew’s scorer Derbyshire as Derby loanee Conor Sammon was also omitted from the squad.
The home side had the first sight of goal when Emi Martinez’s punt upfield saw Bowery get the better of his marker in the aerial dual and Ben Pringle swung a snap effort with his weaker right foot which was straight down the throat of one-time Millers loanee David Stockdale.
In the Seagulls first foray of note, Kazenga Lua Lua fired an effort from distance which stung the palms of Martinez before the home side stunned the visitors by making the breakthrough with eight minutes on the clock.
There looked little danger when the Millers switched play to the right flank but Bowery showed fleet of foot to work a yard of space before playing a tantalising centre into the danger area which saw Derbyshire get infront of his marker before calmly steering his volley past a helpless Stockdale into the bottom corner of the net.
The Millers looked to consolidate their advantage in the early stages and former Miller Chris O’Grady had Albion’s next shot at goal when he cleverly spun his marker on the edge of the box following Dale Stephens threaded ball but he fluffed his lines when his dragged effort failed to trouble the home goal.
Minutes later, the Millers squandered an opportunity to double their advantage when Pringle swung an inviting free-kick into the box which saw Kirk Broadfoot rise highest to plant a dangerous header into the six-yard box which looked inch-perfect for the advancing Bowery, but the ex-Villa striker could not control his header as it ballooned over the bar despite the goal being at his mercy.
Just before the half-hour mark, Richie Smallwood epitomised Rotherham’s tenacity in the early stages to win possession on halfway before Pringle floated a delicate ball over the Albion rearguard which almost saw Derbyshire race clear on goal but unfortunately, the ex-Forest striker was unable to get the ball under his spell as the retreating defence snuffed out the danger.
Minutes later, Pringle and Derbyshire were again in the thick of the action when the former threaded a ball into the box which saw Green step-over into the path of Derbyshire, who showed great awareness to pull the ball back into the path of Green, who had a glimpse of goal but he failed to make a clean connection as his effort dribbled wide of the target.
In the next phase of play, Pringle became the first to see yellow for cynically hauling down Lua Lua in full flow before Rohan Ince soon joined him in the book for tripping Green, who spun smartly following fine work by Arnason.
Half-time:- Rotherham United 1 Brighton and Hove Albion 0
Following the restart, the Seagulls came out on the frontfoot and Joe Bennett’s wicked corner had home hearts’ fluttering as it fizzed across the goalmouth with no visiting raider able to turn the ball goalwards before Smallwood’s superb tackle prevented sub Leon Best from sneaking behind the home rearguard.
Moments later, Beram Kayal became the next to incur the wrath of the referee as he was carded for preventing Martinez from clearing the ball before Kayal almost went from villain to hero as he superbly turned Rawson to race clear on goal and although he won the footrace with the Rotherham defence, his touch was heavy enabling Martinez to smother the ball and although Kayal was first to the rebound, he was crowded out by the retreating defenders.
Kayal was in the thick of the action and in Albion’s next attack he was felled under the challenge of Green, which saw the Rotherham captain cautioned for his late tackle before the visitors wasted the resultant free-kick which was bravely blocked by the rampaging Broadfoot.
The visitors were piling on the pressure and Best pounced on the loose ball to fizz a cross which saw Bowery in attempting to clear miscue his clearance as it narrowly cleared the home crossbar to the relief of the AESSEAL New York Stadium faithful.
Bowery almost made an impression at the other end as he latched onto Derbyshire’s pass to try his luck from distance but his skimming drive failed to trouble Stockdale before Arnason blazed a header over following Pringle’s deep centre in the next home attack.
Minutes later, Jack Hunt’s purposeful run from the right touchline ended with a bobbling effort which forced Stockdale into a smart save before the visitors had their ‘keeper to thank for keeping them in the game when Danny Lafferty embarked on a run which left Lua Lua and Bruno Saltor in his wake before the Northern Irish international presented Derbyshire with an opportunity to bear down on goal but Stockdale read his intentions with a point-blank save.
Moments later, Lafferty showed his defensive prowess with a superb last-ditch header before Mustapha Carayol struck an effort into the side netting after Martinez failed to deal with an Albion centre.
Sub Craig Mackail-Smith almost made an immediate impact from the bench as he was firstly inches away from connecting with Kayal’s sweeping cross before the Scottish international scooped an effort harmlessly wide from distance following Broadfoot’s weak header.
With time running out for the visitors, Rawson threw his body on the line to block Bennett’s goalbound effort and preserve Rotherham’s slender lead in the process before the home side had faint appeals for a spot-kick when Derbyshire tumbled in the box as he looked to latch onto sub Danny Ward’s downward header but the referee waved away home protests.
In the dying minutes, Ward had an opportunity to ease home nerves when he got on the end of Arnason’s perfectly-weighted pass to drill an effort from an acute angle which beat the outstretched hand of Stockdale but it fizzed the wrong side of the upright before Derbyshire almost capitalised on a weak backpass to make it two but Stockdale stood tall his toe-poked effort.
Full-time:- Rotherham United 1 Brighton and Hove Albion 0
Teams:- Rotherham- Martinez, Lafferty, Arnason, Broadfoot, Bowery (Ward 78), Green, Pringle, Derbyshire, Hunt, Rawson, Smallwood. Unused:- Collin, Frecklington, Milsom, Newton, Hammill, Rowe.
Brighton- Stockdale, Saltor, Dunk, Stephens, O’Grady (Best 46), Ince, Lua Lua (Mackail-Smith 75), Kayal, Bennett, Carayol (Teixeira 81), Halford. Unused:- Walton, Hughes, Calderon, Forster-Caskey.
Referee:- Kevin Wright
Attendance:- 9872 (982)