A STRONG second-half showing saw Rotherham United come close to grabbing a share of the spoils but they slipped to a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Fulham.
Ben Pringle came back to haunt his former employers with the opening goal before Ross McCormack gave the Millers’ a mountain to climb at the interval as he struck from the spot.
Cottagers ‘keeper Andy Lonergan saved Matt Derbyshire’s spot-kick before Jonson Clarke-Harris’ second goal of the season gave the home side hope of a point but sub Cauley Woodrow scored in second-half stoppage time to seal the deal for the Londoners, who earned their first league victory of the campaign.
Following their impressive midweek showing against Norwich City, the Millers made three changes to their starting line-up for the visit of the Cottagers.
‘Keeper Adam Collin was retained between the sticks for his first league start of the campaign while Paul Green was recalled to the Millers engine room following his goalscoring cameo against the Canaries.
Richie Smallwood shrugged off a hamstring injury sustained against QPR last weekend to take his place alongside Green, while Chris Maguire was given an opportunity to impress on the right-hand side of midfield as Emmanuel Ledesma and Grant Ward had to settle for places on the substitutes bench.
For the Londoners, Pringle was given a standing ovation by the home faithful on his first return to the AESSEAL New York Stadium following his summer switch to the capital.
The visitors had the first sight of goal when McCormack’s flick on paved the way for Ryan Tunnicliffe and Tom Cairney to exchange passes which saw the former drag a shot harmlessly wide of the target.
Moments later, Maguire showed great tenacity to pounce on the loose ball before advancing menacingly towards the edge of the box whereby he drilled a low effort which stung the palms of Lonergan.
In the next Millers’ attack, a threaded ball released Derbyshire in the channel and his timely pull-back looked inch-perfect for the run of Clarke-Harris, who momentarily got infront of his marker, but his flick lacked punch as Tim Ream blocked his effort.
However, the home fans were stunned as Fulham had the opening say on seven minutes with Pringle coming back to haunt his former club.
There looked little danger when the play was switched to Jazz Richards on the right but the ex-Swansea defender swung a tantalising centre which saw Moussa Dembele rise highest to plant a downward header which was parried by Collin but the ball rolled invitingly into the path of Pringle, who had the simple task of tapping home into the unguarded net.
The visitors were buoyed by the breakthrough and Dembele got the better of Halford before presenting McCormack with an opportunity to race into the box and the ex-Leeds striker drilled an effort which was blocked by the feet of Collin and fortunately for the home side, Pringle was unable to turn the rebound goalwards as he was crowded out by retreating defenders.
However, the afternoon was to take another turn for the worse for the home side on the quarter hour as Fulham were given an opportunity to double their lead when James Husband got the better of Lewis Buxton to waltz into the box before being unceremoniously felled by Halford and referee Mr Eltringham had no hesitation in pointing to the spot.
From the resultant penalty, McCormack kept his nerve to calmly stroke the ball past the outstretched hand of Collin as it arrowed into the bottom corner of the net.
The Millers responded positively to the setback and Maguire worked himself into a shooting position before his snap effort was deflected by Richards into the side netting.
Moments later, the home side almost grabbed a lifeline when Maguire’s free-kick was not cleared decisively by the Londoners and Clarke-Harris attempted an acrobatic overhead kick which was heading towards goal before Green deftly flicked the ball into the bottom corner but any joy was shortlived as the assistant referee had flagged for offside.
Just before the half hour mark, Derbyshire failed to get his shot away but Joe Newell pounced on the hesitancy to skip to the byline before pulling the ball back into the path of Green, who had the goal at his mercy, but he failed to make a proper connection as the visitors’ saw out the danger.
Home frustration was summed up when Maguire became the first to see yellow for tripping Husband in full flow and from the resultant free-kick from McCormack, Jamie O’Hara tried his luck from distance but he failed to test Collin as it flew harmlessly wide of the target.
Minutes later, Buxton’s clip over the top saw Clarke-Harris show fleet of foot to work a yard on his marker before being bundled over in the box by a retreating defender as he looked to strike but the referee waved away home protests for a spot-kick.
In the visitors’ next attack, the Millers had a stroke of luck when Clarke-Harris made a hash of clearing the ball and Dembele struck a rasping effort which was heading towards goal before striking McCormack en-route to goal, preventing the Cottagers adding a third.
Moments later, Pringle controlled a long ball with effortless ease before playing a tantalising cross which was inches away from giving Tunnicliffe a certain tap-in before Derbyshire turned on a sixpence before striking an effort from the edge of the box which looked punch as Lonergan was well-placed to snuff out the danger.
With half-time approaching, Cairney twice headed wide from back-to-back O’Hara corners’ before Tunnicliffe’s instinctive effort was deflected over by Halford.
Half-time:- Rotherham United 0 Fulham 2
Millers’ chief Steve Evans made a double substitution at the interval and it almost paid immediate dividends when duo Grant Ward and Aidy White combined when White met Ward’s floated cross to head across goal but to home frustration, neither Derbyshire or the on-rushing Buxton was able to turn the ball home from close range.
The Millers’ afternoon took another cruel twist when Frazer Richardson had to be stretched off following an innocuous incident before the home side wasted a gilt-edged chance to drag themselves back into the affair ten minutes into the half.
Clarke-Harris’ neat flick injected pace into a home move and Green burst into the box before being bundled over by Richards and the referee pointed to the spot for the second time.
However, Derbyshire was unable to give the Millers a lifeline when Lonergan guessed the right way to parry his spot-kick to safety.
Just past the hour mark, the visitors came within a coat of paint of adding a third when O’Hara’s threaded pass saw McCormack get the ball from under his feet before striking a rasping effort from distance which may have got a touch from Collin as it cannoned against the home crossbar before falling to safety.
In the next home attack, Derbyshire almost atoned for his penalty miss when he latched onto Ledesma’s pass to strike a dipping effort which seemed to deceive Lonergan, who had a stroke of luck as his weak punch was inches away from Green, who was in attendance in the six-yard box.
However, the Millers were finally rewarded for their efforts with 20 minutes remaining when Fulham were guilty of complacency as Green showed great tenacity to win possession and although the midfielder lost his footing following a clash with Cairney, Clarke-Harris picked up the loose ball before driving hard at the Fulham rearguard to strike a rasping left-footed effort which flew past the dive of Lonergan in the blink of an eye.
The home side had a spring in their step and McCormack was shown a yellow-card for a rash tackle on Smallwood before Derbyshire latched onto Clarke-Harris’ towering flick-on to fire an instinctive effort which flew across the face of goal but failed to trouble the target.
Sub Lasse Vigen Christensen became the latest to incur the wrath of referee Eltringham as he cynically felled White to earn a caution before Smallwood kept the Millers in the game as he threw his body in the way of Cairney’s goalbound shot.
The Millers’ were given hope as seven minutes of stoppage time were announced but the Londoners made the points safe when O’Hara ghosted into the box before playing a timely pullback into the path of Woodrow and the England Under-21 international showed his class with a well-struck drive which beat the outstretched hand of Collin to find the bottom corner of the net.
Full-time:- Rotherham United 1 Fulham 3
Teams- Rotherham- Collin, Buxton, Collins, Maguire (White 46), Green, Halford, Richardson, Clarke-Harris, Newell (G Ward 46), Derbyshire, Smallwood. Unused- Roos, D Ward, Ledesma, Rawson, Thorpe.
Fulham- Lonergan, Richards, Cairney, Ream, Pringle (Kacaniklic 90), Tunnicliffe, O’Hara, Dembele (Woodrow 76), Burn, Husband, McCormack (Vigen Christensen 82). Unused- Lewis, Hutchinson, Mattila, Vosser.
Referee- G. Eltringham
Attendance- 8,839 (704).