ROTHERHAM UNITED slipped to defeat on their first ever league visit to the Riverside Stadium as promotion hopefuls Middlesbrough kept pace with the Championship pacesetters.
Following a goalless first-half, Aitor Karanka’s men were indebted to second-half strikes from Lee Tomlin and Patrick Bamford to see off the challenge of the Millers, who had hung on the coattails of the high-flying outfit for the majority of the game.
Following their hard-fought victory over Brighton and Hove Albion on Easter Monday, the Millers made two changes to their starting line-up for the trip to the North East.
Richard Wood was handed his second league start at the heart of the Millers rearguard after his loan stint with Crawley was cut short as Derby loanee Farrend Rawson was omitted from the matchday squad while Ben Pringle had to be content with a place on the substitutes bench as Huddersfield loanee Adam Hammill was given a chance to impress on the left-hand side of midfield.
Wood was in the thick of the action early on as Tomlin’s clever reverse pass released Kike on the right flank but the ex-Owl produced a superbly-timed tackle to snuff out the home threat.
Moments later, Kirk Broadfoot tripped Tomlin near the touchline and Tomlin dusted himself down to float an inviting centre which was met by the head of Jordan Bowery but he headed across his own goal paving the way for Daniel Ayala to attempt an acrobatic bicycle kick but fortunately for the Millers, it was straight down the throat of Emi Martinez.
In the home side’s next attack, Bamford split open the visitors rearguard before fizzing a dangerous cross across the face of goal before Hammill had Rotherham’s first foray of note when he unleashed a dipping effort from distance which had Dimi Konstantopoulos backtracking nervously as it narrowly cleared the home crossbar.
Just before the hour mark, Tomlin blazed an effort over the bar from just outside of the box before Albert Adomah fluffed his lines when he scooped his shot into the home stand after clever approach from Bamford and Kike had presented him with the opportunity to strike goalwards.
Moments later, Wood was well-stationed to prevent Kike from getting his shot away but the danger remained from the resultant corner as Adam Clayton’s centre saw Ayala get the better of the aerial dual with Martinez to head goalwards before the ball was half-cleared by a well-stationed defender into the path of Tomlin, who fired a snap shot which was blocked en-route to goal by Paul Green.
The home side were penning the Millers deep and Clayton caught the visitors napping with a quickly taken corner which saw Adomah sting the palms of Martinez with a fierce drive and in the next phase of play, the home winger again tested the Arsenal loanee with another effort from distance which saw the Millers’ keeper gather smartly on his own line.
The home side came within the whisker of the breakthrough when fine approach play from Bamford paved the way for Kike to play an inviting centre whereby Adomah looked a certain scorer from just yards out but he was unable to turn the ball goalwards and the retreating Danny Lafferty showed good awareness to get the ball from under his feet to clear from just underneath his own crossbar.
With half-time approaching, the Millers almost stunned the home faithful when Hammill’s delicate cross saw Kari Arnason plant a dangerous header towards goal but Wood was inches away from turning the ball home as Konstantopoulos gathered smartly before Adomah broke clear at the other end to fizz a centre which had Martinez scurrying across goal but no home runner was able to tap the ball as it evaded their attentions.
In the last attack of the half, Rotherham countered with purpose and the move ended when Hammill tried his luck with a snap shot but Adam Forshaw threw his body in the way of his goalbound shot to keep the scores level at the interval.
Half-time:- Middlesbrough 0 Rotherham United 0
The Millers were on the frontfoot immediately from the kick-off and Richie Smallwood broke clear to give Matt Derbyshire an opportunity to strike goalwards but his shot lacked power as it dribbled to Konstantopoulos.
However, the home side took the game by the scruff of the neck five minutes into the half when they broke the deadlock.
The visitors looked to turn defence into attack but a well-timed tackle prevented Arnason breaking away and Tomlin pounced on the loose ball before embarking on a solo run which had the visitors defence backtracking and the ex-Peterborough midfielder drilled a low effort from the edge of the box which gave an unsighted Martinez no chance as it arrowed into the bottom corner of the net.
The home side were buoyed by the strike and Martinez had to be on his toes to smother at the feet of Bamford following Kike’s perfectly-weighted throughball before the Spanish striker header over following Tomas Kalas’ whipped centre in their next attack.
There was a flashpoint when Hammill and Kalas squared up which resulted in no further action from referee Iain Williamson before Wood smartly made up ground to prevent Kike striking goalwards after he had initially beaten the Rotherham offside trap.
Arnason became the first to see yellow after he cynically hauled over George Friend near the touchline before the home side doubled their advantage when the Millers failed to clear their lines and Tomlin injected pace into the move before playing an inviting pass into the path of Bamford, who calmly stroked the ball with his favoured left-foot into the far corner of the net.
The Millers rallied bravely and after Arnason’s bullet throw was not cleared decisively by the home rearguard, Broadfoot instinctively poked goalwards but Konstantopoulos parried his effort to safety before sub Lee Frecklington took advantage of good work from fellow sub Danny Ward to drill a daisycutter which had Konstantopoulos nervously flying across goal as it whistled narrowly wide of the target.
Moments later, Hammill tried his luck from distance but the Greek ‘keeper was well-stationed to keep the ball out before Bamford struck an instinctive volley from an acute angle at the other end but Martinez dived smartly to his left to keep the Millers in the game.
With time running out for the visitors, Frecklington took advantage of fine approach play from Ward and Broadfoot to fire a rasping effort from distance which failed to trouble the home goal before Ward also failed to hit the target as he looked to thread a shot through a ruck of bodies in the visitors’ next attack of note.
In the dying seconds, Boro’ almost added a third when sub Emilio Nsue took advantage of a defensive mix-up as he looked to slide the ball home but he lost his footing at the wrong time before Martinez made an acrobatic save to keep out Kike’s looping header.
The Argentine ‘keeper was in the thick of the action moments later when the home side were awarded a spot-kick after Wood tripped Kike in the box, but he prevented the home side having the final say when he dived correctly to his right to keep out Bamford’s nonchalant spot-kick.
Full-time:- Middlesbrough 2 Rotherham United 0
Teams:- Middlesbrough- Konstantopoulos, Friend, Ayala (Woodgate 70), Gibson, Clayton (Whitehead 79), Kike, Tomlin (Nsue 85), Bamford, Kalas, Adomah, Forshaw. Unused:- Ripley, Vossen, Amorebieta, Wildschut.
Rotherham- Martinez, Lafferty, Arnason (Frecklington 69), Broadfoot, Wood, Bowery, Green (Sammon 76), Hammill, Derbyshire (Ward 59), Hunt, Smallwood. Unused:- Collin, Milsom, Newton, Pringle.
Referee:- Iain Williamson
Attendance:- 19537 (963).