ROTHERHAM United will be playing Championship football next term as they secured their status with one game to spare following their 2-1 victory over Reading.
Second-half strikes from Matt Derbyshire and Lee Frecklington gave the Millers the win they needed to extend their stay in England’s second tier and condemn Millwall and Wigan Athletic to relegation.
Following encouraging performances against Fulham and Norwich, Millers chief Steve Evans retained an unchanged starting line-up for the third successive game with Saturday’s goal hero Jordan Bowery having to settle for a substitutes berth.
The Millers had the first sight of goal when fine interplay involving Danny Lafferty and Derbyshire paved the way for Ben Pringle to float a tantalising centre which was well claimed by Mikkel Andersen.
The home fans had their hearts in their mouths when a long clearance was misjudged by Lafferty giving Simon Cox a footrace with Emi Martinez, but the Argentine ‘keeper was quick off his line to snuff out the danger.
Minutes later, the home side came within a whisker of the breakthrough when Pringle’s lay-off saw Danny Ward strike a cross-cum-shot across the face of the goal but the ball agonisingly missed the outstretched foot of Derbyshire as it whistled narrowly past the upright.
Just past the quarter hour, Lafferty’s mishit centre had Andersen nervously scurrying to his front post to collect before Ward’s snap shot from distance hit Derbyshire en-route to goal in the home side’s next attack.
With both sides struggling to find their rhythm, Kari Arnason planted a looping header harmlessly wide of the target before Cox and Pavel Pogrebnyak exchanged passes to give the Russian a sight of goal but he fired a snap shot into the side netting from an acute angle.
Minutes later, the Millers were indebted to skipper Craig Morgan for a timely header from Chris Gunter’s whipped centre before Lafferty’s clipped ball was flicked on by Frecklington into the path of Derbyshire, who fired a first-time effort which fizzed harmlessly wide of the target at the other end.
With half-time approaching, the Millers almost grabbed the breakthrough when a clipped ball forward saw Derbyshire and Ward combine smartly to present Frecklington with an opportunity to strike from a central position and the ex-Peterborough midfielder fired an instinctive effort which was arrowing towards goal and Andersen in attempting to parry the ball, was fortunate as the ball flew inches wide of the target.
From the resultant corner, Pringle swung a delightful centre which saw Kirk Broadfoot rise highest but his glancing header failed to trouble Andersen.
Moments later, Michael Hector was adjudged to have hauled over Ward in an inviting position and from the resultant free-kick, Pringle attempted to drive the ball under the wall and the ball squirmed into the path of Derbyshire, who blazed a shot well wide of the target.
Half-time:- Rotherham United 0 Reading 0
Following the restart, the Millers were quick out of the blocks and they took the game by the scruff of the neck when they broke the deadlock on 52 minutes.
Hector’s clearance gave Rotherham an opportunity to attack with menace and Pringle found Ward in the left-hand channel and the ex-Huddersfield playmaker threaded a clever ball to the front post which was anticipated perfectly by Derbyshire, who slid home from point blank range.
The goal raised the roof of the AESSEAL New York Stadium and the home fans were soon on their feet again when the Millers doubled their advantage just short of the hour mark.
There looked little danger until Ward made something out of nothing to drill a tantalising centre which narrowly evaded the attentions of the sliding Derbyshire but fortunately for the Millers, Frecklington was lerking at the far post and he had the simple task of tapping into the empty net.
Minutes later, the Millers had to reshuffle the pack as Broadfoot had to be withdrawn because of injury paving the way for Richard Wood to enter the fray and the ex-Owl defender was well-stationed to snuff out back-to-back Royals attacks with timely headed clearances.
With time running out for the visitors, the Millers had a scare when Oliver Norwood fired a rasping effort from 35 yards which was dipping viciously towards goal but the backtracking Martinez superbly palmed the ball to safety.
Minutes later, Derbyshire was given a standing ovation by the home faithful as he was replaced by Bowery, but his joy was slightly tempered as the referee cautioned him for his slow exit off the pitch.
The game seemed to be heading to a sedate finish but home hearts started to flutter when Reading halved the deficit with three minutes to go.
The Millers failed to clear decisively and Norwood made them pay when he unleashed a fantastic effort from distance which seemed to take a seemingly unsighted Martinez by surprise as it bounced into the heart of the home goal.
The home fans were on the edge of their seats as Jamie Mackie threaded a ball into the path of sub Gareth McCleary, who with the goal at his mercy failed to make contact.
With five minutes of injury time declared, Reading threw Andersen forward to a corner in a bid to salvage a point before Cox had their last effort of note with a stinging volley which was straight down the throat of Martinez, as the referee eased home nerves as he brought the game to a close.
Full-time:- Rotherham United 2 Reading 1
Teams:- Rotherham- Martinez, Lafferty, Arnason, Broadfoot (Wood 62), Frecklington, Pringle, Morgan, Ward (Green 89), Derbyshire (Bowery 81), Hunt, Smallwood. Unused:- Collin, Hammill, Wilson, Clarke-Harris
Reading- Andersen, Gunter, Kelly, Norwood, Pogrebnyak (Stacey 82), Cox, Obita (McCleary 61), Chalobah (Mackie 61), Hector, Karacan, Cooper. Unused:- Federici, Pearce, Blackman, Appiah
Referee:- Graham Salisbury
Attendance:- 11123 (210).